Diamondbacks camp report: Is Brandon McCarthy a grinder?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brandon McCarthy won't argue the point that he fits the image of the new Diamondbacks.

He's a clubhouse presence, so much so that one of his former teammates said the A's would miss him just as much as they'll miss acknowledged leader Jonny Gomes. He's tough, as anyone who watched him rebound from last September's ugly line drive to the head would agree. He works hard, and he thinks hard about the game.

He's a Kevin Towers type of player, which is why the Diamondbacks general manager still regrets not trying harder to sign the tall right-hander two years back (and wasn't going to miss the chance to get him signed the next time).

So is Brandon McCarthy a grinder?

"I hate the grinder thing," McCarthy said. "I hate 'gritty.' I think that's a lazy way of describing things. I think it's just people who know how to prepare and stay prepared."

So if we're not going to call the new Diamondbacks grinders, what are we going to call what they're doing?

"Prepared baseball, maybe?" McCarthy suggested.

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Hard to see that one catching on.

It's easier to see McCarthy and the Diamondbacks succeeding.

He has already been impressive in a couple of outings this spring. He has already gotten past the stage of people worrying whether there would be any lingering effects from that Erick Aybar line drive last September, the one that led to two hours of brain surgery and days of concern.

He's with the Diamondbacks now because they believed he would be fine this year, when not every team did. The Red Sox, McCarthy said, "were scared off by my head."

McCarthy himself wasn't scared, not by that point. He said everything changed with a November visit to his doctor, which came after eight weeks of basically doing nothing. He would go out with friends but wasn't allowed to drink, and he still worried that any headache was a sign of something more serious.

"It was like a cloud lifted that day," he said. "He put me through a hard workout, one that I never thought I could go through.

"At that point, I could resume life."

He's resuming his baseball life as a Diamondback, a potentially important acquisition in what turned out to be a winter of significant change for this team.

The big move, of course, came when the Diamondbacks finally traded away Justin Upton, the deal that got everyone talking about grinders and grittiness. To listen to the doubters, you would think Towers and manager Kirk Gibson preferred players with little or no talent, simply because of their style of play.

It was never that way, no matter how it was portrayed. The Diamondbacks understand as well as anyone how good Upton could be ("We lost a really good player," Gibson said), but they also felt that things had gotten to the point in Arizona where it was tougher for his talent to come through.

They did want to create a team that was more in Gibson's image, and also in the image they believed would appeal to their fans. Diamondbacks fans remember 2001, and they still revere World Series hero Luis Gonzalez.

"I would love to be on this team," said Gonzalez, who still works for the franchise. "This is the type of team you love to be on."

The Diamondbacks players seem to feel that way already. They rave about Martin Prado, the big name who came from the Braves in the Upton deal. They rave about the mix in the clubhouse.

"It's a cool clubhouse," Aaron Hill said. "We just have a good time."

And the grinder thing?

"We didn't label ourselves that," Hill said.

They don't all hate the term, but they resent the implication that grinding is all that defines them.

"It's a fitting term," Cody Ross said. "But there's a lot of talent here."

Gibson walks from field to field during Diamondbacks workouts, sending good-natured barbs to some of his players but also remarking about how hard they're working. It's obvious he likes this group, and that he sees this as the type of team he always wanted to have.

"I don't think there was ever a team that won that wasn't gritty," Gibson said. "Who doesn't want to be gritty -- and talented?"

The Diamondbacks don't expect everyone to agree. They don't expect many to pick them to win, in a division that includes one team that has won the World Series two of the past three years and another that seems to be printing money.

They don't mind.

"When we were underdogs before, we played well," Towers said. "There's nothing wrong with being gritty little underdogs."

There's that word again. McCarthy will have to talk to his general manager about that.

But this was the team that McCarthy picked for his comeback. He said it came down to the Diamondbacks and the Cubs, and he picked Arizona.

Towers, who always regretted losing out on him the last time, was happy to get him.

"I wasn't going to lose out again," he said.

He was going to build this Diamondbacks team the way he wanted it to be, the way Gibson wanted it to be.

Now they just need a name they can all agree on.

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