TUCSON - Al Pedrique, manager of the Diamondbacks’ Class AAA affiliate, normally does not take non-medical personnel orders from a team trainer.
But this has hardly been a normal season for the Tucson Sidewinders. A vivid example of the comings-and-goings craziness occurred in an early-May contest against Albuquerque, when trainer Greg Barber entered the dugout from the clubhouse and approached Pedrique.
“You have to get Alex out of the game,” Barber said.
Barber explained to Pedrique, Tucson’s second-year skipper, that he had taken a call in the clubhouse from the D-Backs. Alex Cintron, who was on the field playing shortstop, had just been called up to Arizona.
“It’s the second inning, and I had to call timeout to get someone to take Alex’s place,” Pedrique said. “He comes off the field looking at me funny, and I told him he was going to the majors. Obviously, he got very happy.”
Such middle-of-the-game promotions are not unusual in the minors. But, thanks to the rash of injuries suffered by the D-Backs, Sidewinders players are getting big league call-ups with unusual frequency.
Thirteen players from Tucson have risen to Arizona this season. Eight of them — infielders Cintron and Matt Kata, utilityman Robby Hammock and pitchers Andrew Good, Eddie Oropesa, John Patterson, Jose Valverde and Brandon Webb — are still with the D-Backs and have played key roles in the team’s playoff chase in the National League.
“It’s a great feeling,” Sidewinders catcher Brad Cresse said. “It shows that all the hard work pays off and that maybe that next step up doesn’t have to be as (daunting) as we’ve always felt. Guys who are up there are hitting the ball and getting guys out.”
Webb has emerged as an NL rookie-of-the-year candidate, and Good has also helped the rotation withstand the loss of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Valverde, in Matt Mantei's absence, converted all nine save chances in June. Cintron and Kata have shined at the middle infield spots, and Hammock has displayed valuable versatility.
At first, their former teammates’ success in Arizona was amusing to the Tucson players, who joked that “the Sidewinders won again.” However, their continued contributions — often captured on TV screens in the Tucson clubhouse — have raised eyebrows and whetted appetites.
“We joked about it a little more before it became reality, that these guys were helping the Diamondbacks in a big way,” Tucson shortstop Tim Olson said. “But it’s not really a joke anymore.. . .
“For me, I’m just trying to keep myself ready so that if I do get sent up, I can contribute just like the other guys have.”
The realization that any one of them could be the next guy called up to Arizona has created an increased focus among the Sidewinders, Pedrique said. And that’s one of the reasons Tucson is 22-9 since June 6.
“They were surprised to see guys leaving that early, guys they weren’t expecting to get the call,” Pedrique said. “They start thinking, ‘I might be the next guy.’ And you see that look on their face, you see that desire to get here and do their work and do well in case the phone rings again.”
On more days than not, it seems, the phone has rung. Pedrique said he gets to the park each day expecting to get orders not to use this player or that pitcher.
Before one of pitcher Chris Capuano’s starts, Pedrique had to scratch the left-hander 45 minutes before game time because of an imminent call-up. The manager withheld Ricky Bottalico from a relief appearance one game, causing the pitcher to enter Pedrique’s office in a huff afterward.
“Do you not like me anymore?” Bottalico asked.
Pedrique responded that he was going to the D-Backs the next morning.
“Great. . . we’re friends again,” the pitcher said.
The player movement has hit the pitching staff hardest, with four starters — five, if one counts Oscar Villarreal, who surprisingly made the Arizona roster out of spring training — having spent time at the major league level.
But Sidewinders pitching coach Mike Parrott has not been overwhelmed, saying that Class AAA teams typically are always piecing a staff together.
“This happening so early in the year is unusual,” Parrott said. “But one thing at Triple-A is that you’re going to have a lot of movement. From April to August, you’ll have a lot of moves, most of them on the pitching end. So, it hasn’t been that unusual.”
One of the moves that has thrilled Pedrique is the addition of reliever Brian Bruney from AA El Paso. The skipper said that Bruney, a 6-foot-3, 226-pound right-hander with a hard fastball and slider, could be the next young pitcher called up by Arizona.
Entering Tuesday’s play, Bruney had four saves and had allowed no earned runs in 11 innings.
“I had Bruney in the Fall League, and he was outstanding,” Pedrique said. “I wanted him right from spring training. He went to El Paso, but I knew he would be on my team before the halfway point of the season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the majors by the end of the year.”
The way Tucson’s season has gone, Pedrique can make such a statement with confidence.
“Hopefully, all the guys we have up (with the D-Backs) can keep it up, and we won’t be seeing them back here any time soon,” Cresse said, “but it’s all right with me if more guys get called up from here.”
Of the 25 active players on Class AAA Tucson’s opening day roster, 13 are no longer with the team. Ten have been called up to Arizona — and eight of those players are still with the D-Backs.
• Chris Capuano was promoted to the D-Backs on May 3, sent down May17 and will be called up again today.
• Andrew Good was promoted to the D-Backs on April 16, sent down and called up again on June 4.
• Eddie Oropesa was promoted to the D-Backs on May 17.
• John Patterson was promoted to the D-Backs on April 10, sent down and called up again on May 28. He will be optioned back to Tucson today.
• Scott Service was promoted to the D-Backs on April 3, sent down and called up again on May 3. He was designated for assignment and claimed off waivers by Toronto.
• Jerry Spradlin was released on April 19.
• Jose Valverde was promoted to the D-Backs on June 1.
• Ron Villone declared free agency on May 15 and signed with Houston.
• Brandon Webb was promoted to the D-Backs on April 20.
• Robby Hammock was promoted to the D-Backs on April 1, sent down and called up again on June 6.
• Willie Morales was traded to St. Louis on May 13.
• Alex Cintron was promoted to D-Backs on May 7.
• Chris Donnels was traded to the Chicago Cubs on May 29.
• Matt Kata was promoted to the D-Backs on June 14.
• Pitcher Edgar Gonzalez joined Tucson from AA El Paso on May 3 and was promoted to Arizona on June 1. He is now back with the Sidewinders.
• Reliever Ricky Bottalico came to Tucson from extended spring training on May 27 and was sent to the D-Backs on June 23. He is back in AAA.
• Reliever Brady Raggio signed with Tucson on June 1 and was called up to Arizona on June 21.