MLB: LHP Joe Saunders to start Arizona's spring opener

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) - Joe Saunders will start the Arizona Diamondbacks' spring opener against San Francisco on Friday.

Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson announced the decision Tuesday, adding that right-hander Aaron Heilman will start Saturday against Colorado in the first game at Salt River Fields, the new spring training home for the Diamondbacks and Rockies.

Saunders went 3-7 with a 4.25 ERA in 13 starts last season after coming to Arizona as part of the trade that sent Dan Haren to the Los Angeles Angels.

Right-hander Ian Kennedy will start for the Diamondbacks on Sunday against the Giants.

Each is expected to throw two innings at most. Heilman, 5-8 with a 4.70 ERA in 72 innings of relief with Arizona last season, signed a one-year, $2 million deal to return to the Diamondbacks with the promise that he would get a chance to compete for a spot in the starting rotation.

Kennedy was 9-10 with a 3.80 ERA in 32 starts for the Diamondbacks after missing almost all of the 2009 season following surgery to remove an aneurysm near his right shoulder. He is the lone holdover from Arizona's rotation at the beginning of last season.

Right-hander Armando Galarraga, 4-9 with a 4.45 ERA with Detroit last season, starts Monday's game against Colorado.

Wade Miley, a 24-year-old lefty who has impressed Gibson and new pitching coach Charles Nagy, will follow Saunders on Friday. The Diamondbacks' first-round pick in 2008 - the 43rd selection overall - Miley split last season between Class-A Visalia and Double-A Mobile, going 9-7 with a 2.65 ERA.

"He threw the ball really well today," Gibson said. "Ask a couple of the guys that hit off him what they thought."

Left-hander Zach Duke will relieve Heilman on Saturday, with righty Daniel Hudson following Kennedy on Sunday. Barry Enright will take over when Galarraga is finished on Monday.

Saunders, Hudson and Kennedy are expected to head the rotation, with Galarraga, Duke, Enright and Heilman competing for the final two spots. Now perhaps Miley - a non-roster invitee - is in the mix, too.

"He's got more than one pitch, for sure," Gibson said. "He's really grasped the camp, done a good job."

Of the eight pitchers slated for duty, Heilman (32) is the only one over 30. Saunders is 29. He was 9-17 overall last year with the Angels and Diamondbacks, but a combined 33-14 in 2008 and 2009 with the Angels.

The youngest in the group is not Miley, but Hudson, who turns 24 on March 9. Acquired from Chicago in the trade that sent Edwin Jackson to the White Sox, Hudson was 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA in 11 starts with an Arizona team that finished 65-97, second-worst in the National League.


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