The results of Shea Hillenbrand's hard work on his defense have shown up this homestand in his play at third base for the Diamondbacks. Manager Bob Brenly likes being able to use Hillenbrand at first or third, and what position he plays in the future is yet to be determined.
“I think long-term it kind of depends on the surrounding cast of characters: how it all fits together and how it fits best at that point,” Brenly said.
“I don't have a preference,” Hillenbrand said. “I just want to be a member of this team as long as possible and help this team win.”
After the trade that brought him from Boston to Arizona, Hillenbrand made 20 of his first 27 starts for the D-Backs at third base, with six errors in those 20 games.
Then Lyle Overbay was sent down, and Hillenbrand made 35 of his next 38 starts at first base.
This week, Hillenbrand has returned to third, starting all six games of the homestand there.
“I think he does a nice job at either corner,” Brenly said. “Depending on who we want to get in the lineup on a given day, it's nice that he has that flexibility for us.”
Hillenbrand, who has an excellent work ethic, has done extensive work with coach Eddie Rodriguez, and the two plan to continue drills in the offseason.
One thing the Diamondbacks noticed upon Hillenbrand's arrival was that he played too shallow at third, probably because of the high grass at Boston's Fenway Park. Backed up a few steps, he has time to make reaction plays yet can still charge balls in time. He has made a couple of notable plays of both types in the past week.
Footwork and hand position are other ongoing improvements.
“It's just a matter of going out and getting in some games over there,” he said.
“People seem to forget quickly that I was the starting third baseman in the All-Star game last year. You don't do that for no reason.”
Curt Schilling, scheduled to pitch Tuesday in Los Angeles after missing a start with a stiff neck, threw in the bullpen for about 10 minutes Saturday afternoon, his first work off a mound in a week.
Schilling's neck is “much improved,” trainer Paul Lessard said and has “pretty close to full” range of motion.
“The way he looked today,” Lessard said, “I don't think Tuesday will be a problem.”
Randy Johnson today makes his first start as a 40-year-old. Among the other all-time strikeout leaders — Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton and Gaylord Perry — all won their first start after their 40th birthday. Steve Carlton lost, Bert Blyleven got no decision and Walter Johnson did not pitch after age 39.