DENVER - Mark Grace said he is confident he can turn his season around, but when will he get a chance?
Grace, who has 12 at-bats the past 18 days, was not in the Diamondbacks’ lineup Thursday against Colorado's Denny Neagle, even though Grace's .389 career average against Neagle was best of anyone on the roster with more than 10 at-bats facing Neagle.
Instead, manager Bob Brenly played Shea Hillenbrand at first base — his first start there for Arizona after 17 starts at first for Boston earlier this season — and Robby Hammock at third base. Both homered in the game.
“We just felt more comfortable going with the right-hander over there (at first),” Brenly said.
With left-handers scheduled to start for Los Angeles tonight and Saturday, Grace figures not to start either game.
Grace has six hits in his past 43 at-bats (.140), bringing his season average to .206. In the past calendar year — since July 4, 2002 — Grace has batted .226, dropping his career average from .306 to .304.
“I think I've proven over my career that it'll get better,” he said.
With Lyle Overbay, Carlos Baerga and Hillenbrand also available to play first base and Craig Counsell, Danny Bautista and Junior Spivey possibly coming off the disabled list in coming weeks, some have wondered about the safety of Grace's roster spot.
Grace, 39, is making $1.75 million this season, but the D-Backs have already shown a willingness to eat a contract (Greg Swindell, Matt Williams).
“I don't even think about things like that,” Grace said. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I intend to play for the Arizona Diamondbacks until they decide they don't want me.”
Brenly confirmed Curt Schilling's second minor league rehabilitation outing will come Monday for Class AAA Tucson in Sacramento, meaning Schilling could return to the D-Backs to face the San Francisco Giants on July 12 or 13.
“If there's no problems and he comes through OK,” Brenly said, “then that (Monday start) will probably be enough.”
Schilling retired the first eight batters he faced Wednesday with Tucson, and wound up allowing two runs in four innings.
“In a roundabout way, I think we're all a little bit glad he did hit a wall,” Brenly said. “Now I think he realizes that he needs another start down there, to build up his stamina, build up his pitch count. Hopefully it won't be any more than that.”
Randy Johnson threw long toss and 40 pitches off a mound Thursday, and reports from the Valley said he looked more aggressive in agility drills. As for Johnson's beginning a rehab assignment, Brenly said, “It could be quickly. It could be soon.”
Bautista could begin a rehab assignment early next week. Bautista, recovering from a strained left hamstring, will try to run the bases Saturday — his final test.
“He's very close,” trainer Paul Lessard said.
Spivey (sprained left ankle) could be ready for a rehab assignment in a week, Lessard said.
CLOSER CASE CLOSED
Brenly said he talked over the co-closer situation with Matt Mantei, who was upset Monday when told he would share duties with Jose Valverde.
“No big deal,” Brenly said. “Upon further consideration he understands the situation. We're all going to try to make the best of it.”
Reliever Bret Prinz pitched a perfect inning, throwing just six pitches, in a rehab start for Tucson against Sacramento on Thursday.
Reliever Mike Koplove, recovering from shoulder tendinitis, does not know when he will begin throwing again. “I'm kind of in a holding pattern,” he said. “I feel like I could (throw) but it's still a little bit (stiff) there.”
“Tommy John” elbow ligament-replacement surgery Thursday on outfielder Carlos Quentin, Arizona's second first-round pick in last month's draft, went as expected.
Greg Vaughn's homer in Thursday's game was the first allowed by Mike Myers since Aug. 3 (Edgardo Alfonzo, then of the Mets).
Outfielder Felix Jose, who was with the D-Backs in spring training and is on loan to Mexico City of the Mexican League, hit safely in his 21st straight game Wednesday.