For if Arizona (31-48) is a slow-moving locomotive, it has installed a new if not permanent driver (Kirk Gibson) because the club's motivation to win under its old one (A.J. Hinch) was being questioned.
A few hours after team president and CEO Derrick Hall said that "the players would be the first to tell you that they have under-performed," they were. But members of the club's core also intimated that Gibson could be the right skipper to show them the in-game gas pedal.
Gibson got off to a stellar start on Friday, guiding the D-backs to a 12-5 victory over the Dodgers.
"On and off," said center fielder Chris Young of his teammates' will thus far in 2010. "There have been times during the season that we've had that drive. And there have been times in the season when we haven't. Winning ball clubs have that drive, have that aggressiveness, have that win-by-any-means at all times, everyday, day in and day out. I'm pretty sure Gibby is going to talk about that and try to get us into that mentality every game."
"Gibby is going to be [about] playing the game the right way," right fielder Justin Upton added. "He played hard every single night, ran balls out, grinding every at-bat. And he's going to be hard on us. When you have a laid-back environment where guys are content losing, I think sometimes that extra person on top of you helps you get to where you need to be mentally, and that drives you. Gibby has that fire; he doesn't like losing. He's going to push in the right direction."
Which isn't to say a competitive team does one man (let alone one who doesn't hit, throw or catch) make.
"It's on the players," said Upton, who already at age 22 has had three big league managers, "but sometimes the right decision has to be made; the right leadership has to be here. Whether it comes from the players, whether it comes from the front office or the coaching staff, somebody has to step up. Gibby has been here for a while, and we're hoping he has the drive to turn this thing around, and that's going to take the players to get behind him and turn it up.
"I know, from personal situations, that I don't like coming here and getting beat every night. Hopefully, these guys in here don't want to do that either. With a little bit of change we can turn some things around."
Upton, a player who more than saw eye-to-eye with Hinch during the latter's brief tenure, pointed out that his outgoing manager arrived in the middle of a muddled 2009 season and replaced a manager, Bob Melvin, believed to be beloved by his players.
"He kind of got thrown in the fire; he stood up to it. But he just couldn't turn it around," Upton said. "He'd never done it -- and that's not a knock against A.J., but they threw him into the situation where the team wasn't playing well, guys weren't responding to another manager."
Upton, a cornerstone of the 25-man roster even though he's had his own struggles this season, said he believes Gibson's promotion occurs just when his message of intensity will be heard. The hope, of course, is that Upton isn't the only one listening.
"I really like his mentality," said starting pitcher Ian Kennedy, who added that he often soaked up some wisdom from Gibson on the bench during games between his starts. "It's more old school. The way he played would describe how he might coach. I'm curious to see how it works out."
While news of the shakeup had been rumored, it's eventuality still came as a shock to some in the clubhouse. Take right-handed reliever Esmerling Vasquez, who was at a friend's house Thursday night when family phoned him with the news.
"They said, 'They fired your manager, go see it on the news.' I said, 'What?' I feel bad for [Hinch]," Vasquez said. "But Gibson is a good person, a good guy. I feel happy for him."
"You've heard the speculation for a couple of weeks now, but it never really settles in until it happens," said third baseman Mark Reynolds. "I heard last night and was surprised and shocked. You just have to roll with the punches and keep playing."
Andrew Pentis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less