Determining lineup decidedly difficult
Melvin working on different combinations as season nears
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Feeling lucky? Got all the 16 teams left in the NCAA Tournament on your bracket?
Congratulations, but if you really want to challenge yourself, try and predict what the D-backs' starting lineup will look like come Opening Day.
So far this spring, Arizona manager Bob Melvin has been a mad scientist mixing and matching as he tries to find the right combination.
"It really hasn't gotten any clearer," Melvin said. "But I don't think it's really going to matter. Toward the end [of the spring], we'll talk to guys about what we expect out of them early in the season and potentially where they could hit, but we're still kind of experimenting at this point."
It seems as though one thing has remained constant in Melvin's thinking: Chad Tracy is not going to hit cleanup. With Tracy's emphasis on using the entire field and not trying to hit homers, the last thing the team wants to do is put him in the cleanup spot and risk having him try to do too much.
"That's one spot you probably won't see him in," Melvin said.
Of course that, like everything else, is always subject to change.
For instance, a couple of weeks ago Melvin had all but ruled out shortstop Stephen Drew hitting in the leadoff spot. But he put Drew there last Friday against the A's and liked what he saw.
"I thought to the extent to whether he was two, three or a five guy who drives in some runs," Melvin said. "One thing I've found out is that he can acclimate to any spot in the order. Where I was originally more apprehensive about using him in the leadoff spot, I've kind of come to grips that he could be a force there as well.
"It's like he turned it to a different level [against the A's]. It looked like his energy was a little higher, it looked to me like he was running a little better, too. I changed my mind a little bit to that extent."
Of course, Drew has also hit second, with Orlando Hudson in the top spot.
"You get your matchup with Orlando being a switch-hitter," Melvin said.
If Melvin were to hit Hudson leadoff, followed by Drew, that leaves the question of what to do with Tracy. If he hits Tracy third, then he's got two lefties back-to-back in Tracy and Drew, plus Hudson, who hits better against righties than lefties. That provides an opposing manager with the chance to bring a lefty in to face all three of those guys.
But if he does hit Tracy third, does that mean then that Conor Jackson for sure would hit fourth?
"Not necessarily," Melvin said.
Eric Byrnes has hit in that spot, as did Carlos Quentin, so they are both options as well.
"These guys know that when the lineup goes up that day, we expect them to go out there and do their thing and not put too much pressure on themselves," Melvin said.
Maybe the only safe bet is that whoever is catching will hit eighth and that Tracy won't be in the four hole. Other than that, you've got a better chance picking this week's LOTTO numbers.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.