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April 17, 2012

What You Need to Know

Tuesday, April 17

by Daniel Rathman

The Monday Takeaway
All Gerardo Parra’s pinch-hit home run in the seventh inning of last night’s game did was push the Diamondbacks’ lead from 4-1 to 5-1. But in the mind of manager Kirk Gibson, it might prove more significant than a meaningless insurance run in a relatively comfortable victory over the Pirates.

The homer was the first extra-base hit in 19 at-bats for Parra, who was relegated to a timeshare when general manager Kevin Towers inked Jason Kubel to a two-year, $15 million deal this past winter. That move was widely considered a surprise, mostly because Parra—a 24-year-old coming off a 3.5 WARP season—did plenty to endear himself to the organization and little to warrant a demotion.

Even if Towers was bent on adding outfield depth during the offseason, Kubel was a curious choice. Both he and Parra are left-handed hitters, which limits Gibson’s ability to use them in a platoon. Parra—who compiled 14.9 fielding runs above average in 2011—is a vastly superior defender, but his offensive skills are far greater than what you’d expect in a late-inning pinch-hitter and defensive replacement.

Kubel went 0-for-1 with two walks in Monday’s game, and he, too, has just one extra-base hit in 24 at-bats to date. The 29-year-old is also only 2-for-18 with eight strikeouts against right-handed pitching, giving Gibson a poor first impression about the skill (828 career OPS vs. RHP) that Towers coveted most when he brought Kubel to the desert.

Towers did not hand Kubel a $7.5 million salary for the 2012 season to watch him ride the pine, but the Diamondbacks are a better team when Parra is starting in left field, particularly because his defense is vital to a staff loaded with fly-ball pitchers. Kubel’s slow start may open the door for Parra to earn back some of the playing time he ceded over the winter. Monday’s splash was a promising first step in Parra’s bid to do just that.

What to Watch for on Tuesday

  • There are plenty of eye-popping stats to go around during the first few weeks of the season, but the 24-to-1 K/BB the Rangers’ bullpen has put up over the team’s first 10 games may take the cake. With Neftali Feliz moving to the rotation, Joe Nathan, Mike Adams, and Co. have picked up the slack, ensuring that the relief corps would not skip a beat. That incredible ratio is likely to be put to the test this week, though, as the Rangers travel to Fenway Park for a three-game series that begins at 7:10 p.m. ET tonight.
  • With the aforementioned 4-1 loss on Monday, the Pirates’ offensive malaise is pushing DEFCON 2. They’ve scored just 19 runs over their first 10 games, and a 6-for-32 effort (five singles and a double) against the Diamondbacks last night brought their team batting average down to .188 and their combined OPS down to 499. It doesn’t get any easier tonight, either, as they face Ian Kennedy, who owns a 0.64 ERA in two career starts versus Pittsburgh.
  • Orioles manager Buck Showalter decided to experiment with outfielder Nolan Reimold in the leadoff spot to start the season, and the move has yielded mixed results to date. Reimold—who slugged a solo homer as a pinch-hitter in Monday’s game, after Showalter opted to rest him for a nagging hamstring—is batting .353 with three ninth-inning bombs in his first 34 at-bats, but he has yet to work a walk. He is 3-for-8 with a walk against Tuesday’s White Sox starter John Danks, and he should be back atop the order for the 8:10 p.m. ET start.
  • Tyson Ross was disappointed that the A’s decided to send him to Triple-A Sacramento to start the year, but the odd schedule created by the late-March trip to Japan enabled the team to get by without a fifth starter for the first two weeks of the regular season. That changes tonight, when Ross toes the rubber against Dan Haren and the Angels at 10:05 p.m. ET, looking to build on a solid spring, during which he posted a 1.80 ERA over 15 innings. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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