PHOENIX -- Edward Easley took the first step in a journey toward his dream Thursday afternoon when the catcher took batting practice and toured Chase Field after signing with the D-backs earlier in the week. Easley, a supplemental pick who went No. 61 overall in this month's First-Year Player Draft, received a $531,000 bonus and will start with short-season Class A Yakima, flying out Friday morning. "It's a great experience to step out on the field, kind of see what's ahead of me," Easley said. "It's been a dream as a child, and here I am starting off my career, and I'm looking forward to it."
Easley said it was a tough decision out of high school to decide whether to attend college, but after attending Mississippi State for three years, with a College World Series trip earlier this month included, it was an easy choice to begin his pro career. The D-backs prospect won the Johnny Bench Award on Wednesday for being the nation's best catcher this past season after a year in which .367 with 12 homers and 61 RBIs. "It was surprising," Easley said. "I've been fortunate to receive a lot of awards the past few years, but I don't know if there's been a better one then the Johnny Bench Award with him presenting the award to me." Easley he loves to catch but would be willing to move to another position if it would speed his trip to the Majors. He played shortstop in high school and third base in college at times. "I feel like I can play anywhere in the field if that's what it takes," Easley said. "I'm ready to get a wood bat in my hand and get up here as quick as I can." Cruzing to victory: With the D-backs clinging to a 2-0 lead and a pair of runners on base, manager Bob Melvin called for Juan Cruz to bring the heat and provide some relief Wednesday. Cruz did just that with usual eighth-inning men Tony Pena and Brandon Lyon unavailable, helping preserve the important victory over the Dodgers. Melvin said Cruz knew he would get the ball in a situation like that. "He's come in a role where we obviously haven't had a full boat down there in the bullpen, and he's been the guy that's picked up the slack, whether it's the seventh inning, whether it's the eighth inning last night," Melvin said. "It's good to see." Cruz sandwiched a walk around a pair of strikeouts, the last with one out and the bases loaded and tough pinch-hitter Olmedo Saenz at the plate. Cruz hit 99 mph on the Chase Field radar gun to get Saenz swinging. "Sometimes it's wrong, but he has been there before, and especially that last pitch to Saenz, that's probably not a hittable pitch for anybody," Melvin said. Cruz has now thrown 6 2/3 scoreless innings in his past five appearances to lower his ERA from 4.37 to 3.38, with eight strikeouts to boot. His 11.05 strikeouts per nine innings ranks second on the team to Randy Johnson. Pena unexpectedly returns: Before the game, Melvin said Pena had only a "slim chance" of returning Thursday after missing the past two games with the aftereffects of having an infection drained from his right leg Tuesday. However, Pena entered with the bases loaded in the sixth. He gave up a sacrifice fly to the first batter he faced and finished 1 2/3 innings, giving up one unearned run on two hits. Choate demoted: The D-backs designated lefty reliever Randy Choate for assignment when they activated Johnson to start Thursday's game. Choate gave up three hits to three batters after appearing in games Tuesday and Wednesday following his promotion. He allowed a pair of hits that put Wednesday's game in peril before Cruz and Jose Valverde shut the door. Melvin said the club knew Choate's callup would be a "short-term proposition" and that his performance did not factor into the club's decision. Because Choate is more of a lefty specialist than a multiple-innings pitcher, the D-backs needed to go in another direction. However, with Choate having appeared with Arizona in parts of the past four years, Melvin left the door open for a return later in the season. The D-backs have 10 days to trade, release or place him on waivers, in which case if he clears waivers he can be outrighted to Triple-A Tucson. Tucson is his likely destination. Early Valverde: Although Valverde nailed down his 25th save of the season with 1 1/3 perfect innings Wednesday night, it was his first outing of more than one inning. Melvin decided to take his chances with the closer in what he called "the biggest at-bat of the game" in the eighth because Valverde had the freshest arm in the bullpen, having not pitched since Saturday. Usually, Melvin likes to get him to start an inning. "The concern is usually a closer goes in there for a monumental time and then doesn't have to sit down after that and go out there again," Melvin said. More than a gut feeling: With lefty Randy Wolf on the mound for the Dodgers on Thursday, Melvin started righty Mark Reynolds and switch-hitter Augie Ojeda over lefties Stephen Drew and Chad Tracy. Melvin was asked if he makes these decisions based on gut feelings or matchups, and he said that even managers who say they go on instinct base their decisions on educated guesses. "When guys say it was just a gut feeling, there's no such thing as, 'Let's just do it this way,' " Melvin said. "There's a lot of variables that factor into how we're doing it." Melvin said his Thursday lineup was determined by a lefty being on the mound and wanting to keep Reynolds and Ojeda sharp. Up next: The D-backs start a three-game series Friday at 7:15 p.m. MST against the Giants, with Livan Hernandez taking the hill against Matt Morris in San Francisco.
Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.