When the Diamondbacks activated catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia this past Monday, the timing could not have been better.
Once Saltalamacchia went on the disabled list with a left neck strain in late June, manager Chip Hale could only select from Welington Castillo or rookie Oscar Hernandez to catch. Castillo, who came over from the Mariners in the recent trade for Mark Trumbo, started to celebrate his opportunity as an “everyday catcher” by hitting for average and for production.
Prior to the current road trip, Castillo hit .437 with 10 RBIs with runners in scoring position for the previous 15 game before the trip. Castillo continued his hot bat with two home runs Wednesday off the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez, and has slammed eight round-trippers for the Diamondbacks since that early June deal.
While the Castillo acquisition appeared more as an insurance policy against the season-ending loss of Tuffy Gosewisch, the trade has had such a dramatic impact that Castillo clearly belongs in the conversation for the 2016 starter behind the plate.
All of which leaves back-up Hernandez, behind Saltalamacchia, as “the x factor.”
Recently turning 23-years-old, Hernandez brings excellent defensive skills, but limited production. At this point, the Diamondbacks must keep him on the 25-man, major league roster for the entire 2015 season or Hernandez be returned the Tampa organization.
During this past winter meetings, the Diamondbacks selected Hernandez from the Tampa Rays organization as a Rule 5 draft pick.
A player selected from another organization in the Rule 5 selection must be retained on the major league roster for at least one year, or returned to the organization which lost that player.
At this point, Hernandez cannot be sent to Double-A Mobile or Triple-A Reno to work on essential elements of his game.
All of which puts a strain on Hale. The manager clearly has his hands tied, and must wade out the season with Hernandez’s limited offensive capability.
The activation of Saltalamacchia clearly increases the Diamondbacks offensive capabilities behind the plate. At the same time, this will likely be detrimental to Hernandez and the organization’s desire for the Venezuelan-born catcher to catch up on his offensive skills.
Within the perspective of the Diamondbacks dilemma on what to do with Hernandez comes a possible reform of the Rule 5 rule.
Some argue that the Rule be discarded, and other suggest modification.
“You hate to see a player sit around and not be able to develop his skills,” said Hale just before the Diamondbacks departed on their current road trip. “With Saltalamacchia back, we’ll try and get Oscar in at least once a week, but it’s a very challenging situation.”
At its’ origin, Rule 5 was designed to prevent teams from stockpiling young players within their organization. At the same time, other teams would be willing to have these players play in the majors, so the rule, adopted in 1965, requires players drafted through Rule 5 to stay in the major leagues for at least one year.
After that one year, the organization is then free to send that player to the minor leagues for further development.
Diamondbacks’ outfielder Ender Inciarte is a prime example of a Rule 5 player.
Elected by the Phillies from the Diamondbacks’ organization in December, 2012, Inciarte appeared in one game for Philadelphia during the 2013 season, and then, by rule, returned to the Diamondbacks.
Hale, for one, does not see any reform of the Rule 5.
“I would say this is a unique way to get a player,” he said. “Really, I don’t see anything happening here. The rule has been around for a while.”
Earlier in the week, the Diamondbacks traded right-hander relief pitcher J. C. Ramirez to Seattle.
Signed by Arizona as a free agent in last December, Ramirez came to the Phillies from Seattle in a deal that sent Cliff Lee to Philadelphia in December of 2009. Spending most of his time in the minors, Ramirez appeared in 18 games for the Phillies during the 2013 season.
Ramirez was sent to the Mariners for cash or future consideration.
At nearly the same time, the club placed pitcher Randall Delgado on the disabled sit with a sprained ankle, and recalled reliever Addison Reed from Triple-A Reno.
After losing his closer’s job in May and banished to the minors a short time later, Reed went down to Reno and now comes back with impressive numbers.
With the Aces, the 26-year-old out of Montclair, Calif. was 1-1 with five saves and a 1.74 ERA in 11 games. With Arizona earlier this season, Reed went 2-3 with three saves and a 5.22 ERA.
Reed was optioned to Reno on June 22.
NOTES FOR THE ASTROS SERIES
The Diamondbacks now move to the second-leg of their current road trip.
Taking on the Astros in Houston, they are coming off a sweep of the Mariners in Seattle and now move to within two games of the elusive .500 mark.
After an off-day Thursday, their schedule resume Friday night in Texas.
In the opener Friday night, the Diamondbacks will send right-hander Rubby De La Rosa (8-5, 4.52 ERA) to the hill against righty Scott Feldman (4-5, 4.54).
On Saturday, Jeremy Hellickson (7-5, 4.60) takes on lefty Dallas Keuchel (12-5, 2.32), who was the American League starter in the recent All-Star game.
For the Sunday finale, lefty Robbie Ray (3-5, 2.70) faces right-hander Collen McHugh (12-5, 4.43).
Against Hellickson, infielder Jed Lowrie (who could come off the DL, with a ligament tear in his right thumb since April 28, during the Diamondbacks series) is 1-for-10 (.100), and outfielder Colby Rasmus is 4-for-24 (.167).
Against Feldman, Aaron Hill is 5-for-24 (.208), Cliff Pennington is 5-for-17 (.294), and Jarrod Saltalamacchia is 4-for-10 (.400).
Against Keuchel, Hill is 3-for-8 (.375) and Paul Goldschmidt is 1-for-7 (.143) with four strikeouts.
Then, it’s on the nation’s capital and four with the Washington Nationals before returning to Chase Field for a six-game home stand, three each against the Reds and Phillies.