D-backs happily welcome Cactus League play

Early start to Spring Training has players eager for opener with Dodgers

D-backs happily welcome Cactus League play

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A full 20 days after pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training, the D-backs will finally play their first Cactus League game.

Arizona opens its 28-game exhibition schedule -- 29 if you count a game against Team Australia on March 21 in Sydney -- at 1:10 MST on Wednesday afternoon against the Dodgers at Salt River Fields. The game can be seen on MLB.TV.

For the players, it's about time the games got started.

"I think everybody is," second baseman Aaron Hill said when asked if he was looking forward to the start of games. "I mean it's always fun when you get going. You work hard in spring. You're here early, you do whatever you have to do and when you get into games, that's what Spring Training is about. It's fun to see the fans again, your adrenaline starts rolling."

With the D-backs start the regular season with a pair of games in the Opening Series against the Dodgers in Sydney on March 22 and 23 (both on March 22 Arizona time), the D-backs reported to camp before any of the other Major League teams.

D-backs manager Kirk Gibson has done his best to keep his players from becoming too bored with the extra time by changing the routine when possible. Gibson gave his team one day off and mixed in a few shorter days, including one that featured a paintball outing, to try to keep everyone fresh.

"We had times that we could kind of have lighter days, did some fun things, but at the same time we got all the elements in and we got to redo them as well," Gibson said. "We're definitely ready to play games. The intensity and the way they've approached every day at practice has been good, even though they were ready long ago."

While the Cactus League games are exhibitions, they are far from meaningless.

"It's great to get feedback in that way," left fielder Mark Trumbo said. "In batting practice and stuff, sometimes you feel great and it doesn't translate into the game. And you need some accurate feedback, either positive or negative, just to know where you're at, and those game situations are pretty much the only way to get that."

Brandon McCarthy will start Wednesday, but Gibson cautioned not to read anything into that, as the team has not yet settled on who will pitch during the Opening Series at the Sydney Cricket Grounds.

McCarthy will throw around 60 pitches and could go as many as four innings. That's more than usual for a first start, but because of the extra time they've had to get ready, Arizona's starting pitchers threw 45 pitches over three innings in their last simulated-game outings.

"This is the part of spring where boredom starts to kick in and you're tired of the same thing every day without any competitive outlet," McCarthy said. "Now at least you get a chance to get back in and find out where you're at relative to the beginning of the season and the work you've done in the offseason. So I think it's good for everybody, mentally, that we're getting going now."

With the rotation appearing set, the only jobs that appear up for grabs are a final bench spot, the final spot in the bullpen and the backup catcher, which is a battle between Henry Blanco and Tuffy Gosewisch.

The lone starting job that is up for grabs is at shortstop where Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings will battle, with Cliff Pennington likely to serve as the backup.

The games also give Minor League players and those not on the 40-man roster a chance to show the Major League staff what they can do. They figure to get plenty of opportunities, given the extra games the team is playing.

While the coaches have watched the drills and simulated games closely, the real evaluation begins Wednesday.

"Now we get into the games and you have to take what we've done in the [simulated] games into the games," Gibson said. "It's going to be much tougher, but you've still got to trust your stuff."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.