By Dan Zeiger, Tribune
TUCSON - Manager Bob Melvin
will not address Oscar Villarreal’s status until today, but it looks as if the battle for the Diamondbacks’ No. 5 starter is down to two candidates.
During Sunday’s split-squad game against the San Diego Padres at Yuma, Villarreal allowed eight hits and seven runs in three innings.
Melvin has said he wants to make a decision on Villarreal with about 1 1 /2 weeks left in spring training, so the righthander would have enough time to prepare for the regular season as a reliever if need be. That time is fast approaching, and Villarreal — with a 13.50 ERA in 8 2 /3 innings — has not made a strong case to start.
"I’ll have more to say about that (today)," Melvin said via telephone from Desert Sun Stadium, where Arizona lost to San Diego, 17-9.
"(Oscar) was a little jumpy and was pulling out a bit, leaving some balls up. When his arm angle was good and he was throwing downhill, he threw very well, but, obviously gave up some hits and runs."
If Villarreal heads to the bullpen, a pair of left-handers, Brad Halsey and Michael Gosling, would vie for the fifth spot. Halsey allowed a run and six hits in five innings against Seattle on Saturday and has a 2.77 ERA this spring; Gosling (5.23 ERA) starts against the Chicago White Sox
"Every start for everyone is a big start now," Melvin said.
With two reliever spots projected open at the start of spring — and right-hander Brandon Lyon (1.29 ERA) making a strong case to win one of them — a Villarreal move could shut the bullpen door.
All Javier Vazquez has left to do prior to the regular season is build his endurance and pitch count. Stuff-wise — he’s already there.
Arizona’s opening-day starter was perfect through the first five innings against the Seattle Mariners at Tucson Electric Park. He got fatigued as he approached his target pitch count of 75-80, and wound up allowing four hits and three runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 6 1 /3 frames.
"I got a little tired in the sixth and seventh," Vazquez said. "But I needed to get my pitch count up, so it was good.
"I was in a rhythm, and all my pitches were working. . . . I just need to raise my pitch count, and get up to 100 pitches by the end of the spring."
Trying to win a roster spot in a utility role, Scott Hairston has spent most of his time in the outfield this spring. It is an adjustment for a guy who ascended the D-Backs’ ladder as a second baseman, but Hairston said he does not feel out of place.
On Sunday, Hairston, playing in left field, made a running stab of Adrian Beltre’s liner in the first inning, then nearly threw out the Mariners third baseman at the plate in the seventh.
"I’m just working as hard as I can to make things happen," Hairston said. "I’m playing a new position, but I’m comfortable."
A long shot to make the team, Hairston — who played in 101 games as a rookie for Arizona in 2004 — could start the year at Class AAA Tucson or be traded. The 24-year-old said he will accept whatever happens.
"There are a lot of teams out there, or I’ll be here," Hairston said. "If I do my best and get noticed, everything will fall into place."
The wind whipped in Tucson on Sunday, helping Jose Cruz Jr. hit an unexpected home run.
Against soft-tossing Jamie Moyer in the fourth inning, Cruz slammed his bat down as he hoisted a lazy fly to right field. But the wind — gusts were at 25 mph — got behind the ball and carried it into the visitors’ bullpen.
"I thought I hit it well, but when you’re hitting right-handed, you’re not used to hitting it out of the park that way," said Cruz Jr., a switch-hitter. "I was like, ‘Oh, jeez.’ But it was dumb luck. I saw (rightfielder) Randy Winn going to the fence, and I was like, ‘Wait a minute.’ And it went out." . . .
Luis Gonzalez, playing in left field, went 1-for-2 with an RBI against San Diego. He will be the designated hitter for the D-Backs today.
AT A GLANCE
Mariners 7, D-Backs 7 Notable pitching: Javier Vazquez took a perfect game into the sixth inning but ended up allowing four hits and three runs with four strikeouts in 6 1 /3 frames. Reliever Randy Choate allowed base hits to both men he faced, and Mike Koplove gave up two hits (one a grand slam by Seattle infielder Greg Dobbs) and an earned run in two-thirds of an inning.
Notable hitting: Center fielder Jose Cruz Jr. and third baseman Troy Glaus hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning, and first baseman Tony Clark had a pair of singles. Minor-league outfielder Jarred Ball went 2-for-2 with a double and two runs scored.
AT A GLANCE
Padres 17, D-Backs 9 Notable pitching: Oscar Villarreal started and allowed eight hits and seven earned runs with no walks and no strikeouts in three innings.
Notable hitting: First baseman Chad Tracy went 1-for-3 with a double and scored a run. Luis Gonzalez had an RBI and outfielder Doug Devore went 2-for-4 with a home run and scored three runs.