Fast-starter Webb may incite D-backs

Fast-starter Webb may incite D-backs

PHOENIX -- Pitching on Opening Day is nothing new for Brandon Webb.

"This is going to be, what, my fourth?" the D-backs ace asked.

Yes, this will be Opening Day No. 4 for Webb, but this year there will be something new added to the mix. Instead of pitching in Coors Field as he did in 2006 and '07, or Cincinnati like last year, this time, Webb will get the season under way at home when he faces the Rockies on Monday afternoon.

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"Opening Day is always special," he said. "You get a big crowd, everything is new, there's usually some ceremonies, a lot of excitement, fans are into it. But when you add to it getting to do it at home for the first time, that just makes it a little more special. It will be pretty neat."

Expectations are high in the desert again this year. The D-backs won the National League West in 2007 and fully expected to repeat last season, especially after they got off to a 20-8 start.

Instead, they slumped the rest of the season and eventually finished 82-80, good for second place behind the Dodgers.

This year, second place just won't cut it for a team that believes its potential is far greater than that.

"I would hope that the thought process that would resonate in this room would be for us to be World Series champions," veteran Tony Clark said.

With 18 of 22 games at home during the month of April, the D-backs know that getting off to a good start is crucial.

"Opening Day is the kickoff to the season you want to get your team off to a good start," Webb said.

If that's the case, Webb is certainly the person for the job.

It's well known that the Kentucky native won the NL Cy Young Award in 2006 and finished second the past two seasons, but what is less realized is what dominating Aprils the D-backs' ace has had throughout his career.

Over the course of his career, he is 18-2 in March and April games. That includes last year's 6-0 mark, which was part of a stretch in which he won his first nine starts of the year.

So what's the secret to the hot starts?

"I have no idea," Webb said.

Webb typically leaves the in-game thinking to catcher and good friend Chris Snyder, so he was asked the same question.

"He's just a good pitcher," Snyder said with a shrug. "Really, I don't know."

Last year's start led to a 22-7 record, tying him with the Indians' Cliff Lee for the most wins in the Majors. And while he might not know why he gets off to great starts, Webb knows that once he gets win No. 1, the rest come easier.

"You want to get yourself a couple of wins under your belt and just roll after that," he said. "It just makes it a lot easier that way. Otherwise, you can end up pressing, but you get that first one, it's huge."

Webb is known for his heavy sinking fastball, but over the past two seasons, he has developed his curve and change to the point where they are almost on the same level.

This past spring, Webb has tinkered with what he calls a batting-practice fastball. Whereas his regular fastball can hit 90 mph, the batting-practice fastball comes in at about 82-84, and with the hitter expecting something harder, he will likely be out on his front foot.

Webb may not throw the pitch very often, but it's something else for hitters to keep in the back of their minds in fastball counts.

"You always want to try and get better," Webb said. "I feel good about the way the spring has gone. I'll be ready for the opener."

Pitching matchup
ARI: RHP Brandon Webb (22-7, 3.30 ERA in 2008)
One of Webb's two early-season losses was to the Rockies in the 2006 opener. He allowed just one run over seven innings as the D-backs lost, 3-2. Webb struggled in '07 against the Rockies, going 1-3 with a 5.77 ERA, but he turned that around in 2008, going 3-0 with a 1.84 ERA against Colorado.

COL: RHP Aaron Cook (16-9, 3.96 ERA in 2008)
Cook pitched against the D-backs in the 2007 opener and allowed five runs on nine hits in six innings as the Rockies fell, 8-6. Cook was 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA against the D-backs in 2008.

The last time the D-backs opened a season at Chase Field was in 2005, when they fell 16-6 to the Cubs in front of 45,539. Arizona went on to win the next two games of that series and finished the month of April with a 14-10 record. ... The D-backs have started well under manager Bob Melvin. In his four years at the helm, they are 62-42 in the month of April. ... This is the franchise's 12th season, and the D-backs are 6-5 on Opening Day and 900-882 overall. ... This will be the seventh home opener in club history, and Arizona is 2-4 in those games. ... The D-backs have faced the Rockies four times on Opening Day, including the first game in franchise history on March 31, 1998.

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Up next
• Tuesday: Diamondbacks (RHP Dan Haren, 16-8, 3.33 ERA in 2008) vs. Rockies (RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, 12-12, 3.99 ERA in 2008), 6:40 p.m. MST
• Wednesday: Diamondbacks (LHP Doug Davis, 6-8, 4.32 ERA in 2008) vs. Rockies (LHP Franklin Morales, 1-2, 6.39 ERA in 2008), 12:40 p.m. MST
• Thursday: Off-day

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