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Pennington keeping D-backs well-stocked at short

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PHOENIX -- Dressed in his alma mater's colors among nearly 90,000 raucous Texas A&M fans last October, Cliff Pennington figured he'd spend the fall afternoon cheering on his college football team back in his home state just six days after the A's were eliminated from the postseason.

Instead, Pennington reached into his pocket midway through the game, pulled out his cell phone and read a text informing him that Oakland -- the only organization he'd known in professional career -- had traded him to Arizona.

When looking back on that eventful day six months later, however, Pennington's only negative memory is the final score of the Aggies' game.

"I was going crazy, because I was hoping we'd come back and win -- we were playing LSU -- but we ended up losing late though," he joked. "That was the only frustrating part."

That sort of easygoing attitude, along with his reliable play, has helped Pennington ingratiate himself into the D-backs' clubhouse early on this season while serving as their everyday shortstop.

"Everybody from Day 1 in Spring Training was welcoming and awesome, it feels like I've been here for a long time," Pennington said. "I think that speaks to the type of guys in this clubhouse. It's been awesome, the guys are great, the coaching staff has been awesome and I've been enjoying it. Obviously, winning always helps, too, and we've been playing pretty well."

Even though the highlight of Pennington's season to date is his walk-off hit against the Cardinals on April 3 to end a 16-inning marathon game, the veteran has made his impact felt on a daily basis on the defensive front, helping lift the D-backs to a 7-4 start.

"He's been outstanding," D-backs bench coach Alan Trammell said. "He's come over and done everything we were hoping for, we've been impressed. He's one of the reasons why we're at where we are. It's so far so good with him, he's brought what we needed and solidified the position."

With just two errors in 12 games, Pennington ranks fourth in the Majors among all qualifying shortstops in zone rating -- the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive "zone," as measured by STATS, Inc. Moreover, the 28-year-old is sixth in range factor, which is an advanced fielding percentage stat that takes into account the player's individual ability to get to each batted ball.

Despite making a handful of stellar defensive plays already this season, Pennington's most admired attribute by his club doesn't revolve around him taking away base hits from opposing teams. Rather, the D-backs like his all-around consistency more.

"He's able to do it all," Trammell said. "He often shows he has a real good God-given talent in certain plays, but that's a bonus for me. It's more about making the routine plays, and that's what I've seen out of him. Bonus plays are great, but it's the other ones that keep you in the big leagues. Other guys have good arms and make the highlight reel, but then they boot the easy ones. That's not what you're looking for."

Along the same lines, Pennington has shown off his arm quite a bit this year, throwing across the diamond on a line with a flick of his wrist. But that trait is also just gravy in the eyes of Trammell, who spent 20 years in the Majors as a shortstop.

"He's certainly got a good arm, there's no question about it, but to me, that's overrated," Trammell said. "I think the feel is more important, you have to be able to throw from different angles, you have to be able to move up the middle and sometimes have finesse throws. There are a lot of things that go into it, and Penny gets them all."

For now, Pennington, who is batting .267, will continue to be the D-backs' everyday shortstop, but once Willie Bloomquist returns from an oblique injury, the position will likely be reevaluated. That scenario doesn't concern Pennington, though; he's fine with any role the club gives him as long as it translates into victories.

"Obviously if you play this game, you want to play, but getting Willie back is going to be awesome," Pennington said. "Our focus is to win ballgames, and Willie is going to help us do that."

For what it's worth, Pennington responded extremely well the last time he competed with another shortstop for playing time. In 2010, the A's brought in Adam Rosales to contend with Pennington, who went on to finish the season with a career-best 4.1 wins above replacement rating.

"That was my job at the time, I wasn't thinking about anything else. I wasn't worried it then and I'm not now," Pennington said. "To be honest, I just like what we're doing over here, we have a good team. Things are good, I'm going to roll with that."

Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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