Originally created 06/02/04

Brenly trying to stay optimistic as Arizona fades in NL West



PHOENIX -- The bullpen's a mess, the big slugger probably is out for the season and nobody but Randy Johnson can win games.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, expected to contend in the NL West, haven't been this bad since their expansion season in 1998.

Manager Bob Brenly, in the final year of his contract, has vacillated between exasperation and stubborn optimism.

Asked before Monday's game if he thought his job was in jeopardy, he snapped at the questioner.

"My job is to help the team win in any way I can," he said. "If the team doesn't win ball games, then everybody can draw their own conclusions. I'm going about my business the same way I always have, and I'm quite honestly getting tired of answering all these questions."

He held the latest in a series of team meetings before Monday night's game, then the team went out and committed three errors, allowing three unearned runs, in an 8-4 loss to San Francisco.

The defeat left Arizona with its worst May record in the team's seven-year history at 9-20. Going into Tuesday night's game against the Giants, the Diamondbacks had lost 10 of 12 and were 15 games under .500 (18-33), the second-worst record in the National League.

Diamondbacks' chairman Jerry Colangelo was out of town over the holiday weekend, and was in a series of meetings Monday. He has supported Brenly earlier this season, but hasn't commented publicly through the recent struggles.

At least three times after losses, Brenly has talked about how he doesn't know what to do to turn things around. But he said that's just the frustration of the moment. He spoke to the team before Monday night's game, relating a few ideas he said came to him through a mostly sleepless night.

Steve Finley called it "a terrific meeting, very positive."

No part of the team has been worse than the bullpen, which was supposed to be the team's biggest strength and help shore up a thin starting staff.

"We thought 'Boy, when we get to the sixth inning, we're going to have all kinds of options to turn a game over to somebody and win it,"' general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said. "It has been the completely opposite experience. That has been a real disappointment, no doubt."

Closer Matt Mantei, who earns $7 million this season, lost his job, then went on the disabled list with tendinitis. Jose Valverde, impressive a year ago, replaced Mantei, was awful, then was demoted, too.

As of now, journeyman Scott Service is the designated closer, although Elmer Dessens - whose poor performances knocked him out of the starting rotation - has the team's most recent save.

There are nine players on the disabled list, including four pitchers. The team is on its third second baseman, Scott Hairston, who was called up from Triple-A Tucson. Roberto Alomar has been out since April 21 with a broken right hand, and Matt Kata separated his shoulder diving for a ball on Saturday.

Then there's Richie Sexson, The Diamondbacks gave up six players in a nine-player deal to get the big first baseman as a right-handed power hitter behind Luis Gonzalez.

Sexson tore cartilage and bruised a bone in his left shoulder checking his swing on April 29. He returned three weeks later, but in his second game back, re-injured the shoulder on another check swing. Now team physician Dr. Michael Lee is recommending season-ending surgery.

Gonzalez, meanwhile, is batting just .242. He had a pair of singles to snap an 0-for-11 skid on Monday night, but still had just six hits in 46 at bats.

"It's easy to go up there and say you've got to relax, but you're not winning and you're not scoring runs and you want to make a difference, especially hitting in the middle of this batting order," he said. "I have a lot of responsibilities on this ball club, and one of them is to go out there and perform and try to produce."

Gonzalez, Finley and Johnson - along with Danny Bautista - are the remnants of a team that won the 2001 World Series. Most of the rest of the roster is made up of youngsters in their first or second season in the majors.

"We've turned young in a hurry," Gonzalez said. "People don't realize that."