Webb eager for mile-high challenge

Webb eager for opener's mile-high challenge

It's not often you hear pitchers say they are excited to pitch in Coors Field, but Brandon Webb has been looking forward to Monday's start there since January.

That was when Diamondbacks skipper Bob Melvin announced that the 26-year-old Webb, who had just signed a contract extension, would be the club's Opening Day starter.

"We feel he's ready for it," Melvin said.

"I've been real excited ever since [Melvin] told me it was going to be my spot," Webb said. "I think it's something that every pitcher wants to do at some point in their career. It will be a special day. Obviously, I wish it was at home in front of the home crowd."

When he first got to the big leagues in 2003, Opening Days in Arizona belonged to Randy Johnson, who started six straight from 1999-2004, and the second day of the season was Curt Schilling's.

Now, though, the Opening Day honor will go to the man who spent a couple of years soaking up lessons from Johnson.

Webb earned the assignment after going 14-12 with a 3.54 ERA in 33 starts last year. It was a breakout year for him as he cut his walk total in half and improved his ability to hold runners and get down bunts.

Webb relies on a heavy sinking fastball to get ground-ball out after ground-ball out. And while many pitchers complain about their breaking pitch not breaking as much in Denver's mile-high altitude, Webb's sinker continues to do its thing.

"Most of the time, I've fared pretty well there," said Webb, who is 3-3 with a 4.22 ERA in seven career starts in Denver. "If you elevate the ball there, you know you're going to get hurt. If my sinker is down and I keep the ball down, I'm pretty much all right there."

As he continued to put together outstanding starts in the second half of last year, Webb's confidence kept growing. His teammates began to expect to win every time Webb took the mound.

"He's always done well to earn that respect from his teammates," Gonzalez said. "We always give him a hard time and stuff, but I have the ultimate respect for this guy, the way he approaches the game and goes out there and prepares himself to be ready to pitch.

"And I think now that he's been thrust into that No. 1 [spot], he's going to step up to that challenge."

Monday's opener, which begins the ninth season in franchise history, is also the beginning of a six-game road trip that also includes a stop in Milwaukee for a three-game set with the Brewers.

Pitching matchup
ARI: RHP Brandon Webb
• 14-12, 3.54 ERA in 2005
• 3-0, 3.10 ERA in 2005 vs. COL
• 6-3, 3.44 ERA lifetime vs. COL

  Diamondbacks probable lineup
 Pos. Name
1.SSCraig Counsell
2.2BOrlando Hudson
3.3BChad Tracy
4.LFLuis Gonzalez
5.1BConor Jackson
6.RFShawn Green
7.CJohnny Estrada
8.CFEric Byrnes
9.PBrandon Webb

COL: RHP Jason Jennings
• 6-9, 5.02 ERA in 2005
• 0-2, 4.38 ERA in 2005 vs. ARI
• 4-5, 5.08 ERA lifetime vs. ARI

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• COL: UPN 20

On radio
• ARI: KTAR 620 AM, KSUN 1400 AM (Español)
• COL: KOA 850 AM

On deck
• Tuesday: Off
• Wednesday: at Colorado, 5:35 p.m. MST
• Thursday: at Colorado, 5:35 p.m. MST

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.