After encouraging season, with young core of players, D-backs believe future is bright

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PHOENIX — A 15-game improvement in the standings with a core of talented young players and an aggressive style has the Arizona Diamondbacks believing they are headed in the right direction.

"We're close," general manager Dave Stewart said.

Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony La Russa was a little more measured in his comments.

"I think we're close to playing meaningful games in September," La Russa said. "How realistic contending to play in October, I think there's pieces that will hopefully fall in place this winter."

A year after finishing with the worst record in baseball, Arizona made a significant turnaround under first-year manager Chip Hale.

"It's a work in progress," Hale said, "and I think we made some progress this year."

Arizona finished 79-83, third in the NL West.

Hitting was the team's strong suit. The Diamondbacks' 720 runs scored were second-most in the National League, behind Colorado's 737.

Center fielder A.J. Pollock had a breakout season to join first baseman Paul Goldschmidt as a 1-2 offensive punch. Goldschmidt hit .321, fourth-best in the NL; Pollock was seventh at .315.

La Russa said those two could go "0-for-the spring" next year and be assured their spots in the lineup. Pretty much every other position will be open to competition.

The Diamondbacks' weakness was pitching, particularly the starters, who often didn't go deep into games.

"We were running our bullpen out there every day and the guys weren't rested," Stewart said, "which is a recipe for bad performance."

The Diamondbacks fired pitching coach Mike Harkey on Monday.

"We felt like a new voice in that spot was needed," Hale said.

Here are some things to note following Arizona's turnaround season.

CASH COMING: A new local television deal will bring considerable revenue to the franchise, but Stewart downplayed the idea of acquiring a high-priced, free-agent pitcher.

"I'm not sure what we want to do in that," he said. "It really comes back to doing a strong evaluation of what we have here. If Patrick Corbin one year from now is healthy, and we did get him through this season healthy, throwing the ball well, showing great signs of the pitcher he was in the past, then I'm not too sure there is a necessity to go out and get that guy.

"But if it makes sense ... then we'll do what's necessary, I guess would be the best way to put it."

MEDICAL REPORT: Four pitchers were coming off Tommy John surgery: Corbin, Daniel Hudson, Matt Reynolds and David Hernandez.

"We wanted to get to the end of the season with those guys pitching competitively, but being careful so that we ended the season with each of those guys being healthy, excited and ready to get into a full winter of working out with a clear feeling about coming into 2016," La Russa said.

All four finished the season in good shape.

Of particular concern was Hudson, who came back from two operations. He had a strong year, hitting the high-90s (mph) regularly in a relief role. In 64 relief appearances, he went 4-3 with a 3.86 ERA.

La Russa said it has not been determined whether Hudson will return to the rotation or stay in the bullpen next season.

"We just know that he's a terrific asset," La Russa said.

YOUNG STARTERS: The Diamondbacks are counting heavily on Corbin returning to pre-injury form after a solid comeback season. He was 6-5 with a 3.60 ERA.

Stewart identified Corbin, Rubby De La Rosa and Robbie Ray as the team's three top starters. De La Rosa (14-9, 4.67 ERA) led the staff in wins and is 26. Ray (5-12, 3.52) is just 24.

CROWDED OUTFIELD: The Diamondbacks have three outfielders who will compete to play alongside Pollock: Ender Inciarte, David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas.

La Russa said that's a good problem to have.

La Russa said the team has Tomas on an improved nutrition diet in hopes of having his weight down as the Cuban player enters his second season.

NEW CLOSER? Sidearm pitcher Brad Ziegler took over the closer role from ineffective Addison Reed early in the season and finished with 30 saves and a 1.84 ERA.

Stewart doesn't see the need to find a more traditional closer.

"Ziegler, while not the strikeout pitcher your typical closer is, the bottom line is he gets results," Stewart said.

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