Exceeding expectations? D-backs GM says 'No, not really'

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D-backs general manager Mike Hazen said the squad hasn't exceeded expectations. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) D-backs general manager Mike Hazen said the squad hasn't exceeded expectations. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The Diamondbacks have the second-best record in the National League at the break. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The Diamondbacks have the second-best record in the National League at the break. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The Diamondbacks have four All Stars. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The Diamondbacks have four All Stars. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

When it comes to D-backs general manager Mike Hazen, don’t mistake blunt for bold. By all measures, the Arizona Diamondbacks are one of the surprise teams of the 2017 Major League Baseball season but Hazen doesn’t see it that way. 

“No, not really,” said Hazen who sat down Sunday for an All-Star break assessment of his 53-win team.

It’s tough to exceed expectations when you don’t have expectations.

“I honestly go into each season and you try not to lay expectations out there in terms of what you’re trying to see,” said Hazen. “I don’t think that’s fair to do. I think during the off-season you have an idea of the range of where you fall in the pecking order but you play 162 games and we’re all human. Teams are going to go through ups and downs and how you play through those moments really defines the season.”

[WATCH: Tim Ring's full interview with MIke Hazen]

[SPECIAL SECTION: Diamondbacks]

So far the D-backs season can only be defined as a success. Four players including two starting pitchers are National League All-Stars. Despite dropping eight of their last 11 games heading into the break, the D-backs boast the second-best record in the National League. A remarkable turnaround for a team that won only 69 games the year before. A culture and performance overhaul spearheaded by Hazen and new field manager Torey Lovullo.

“We have really brought in as many voices to the clubhouse to add to the dialogue of what we’re trying to get done,” Hazed said. “Whether it be executing pitches or pitching strategy or the offensive side of the ball. And then from the depth standpoint, watching guys come in and fill in for A.J. [Pollock] or Yasmany [Tomas] when they go down - that was one of the things we strove to build in the off-season as well because the consistency that can result from that.”

Teaching and depth, just two of the philosophies Hazen brought with him after spending 11 seasons in the front office of the Boston Red Sox.

“There are some things that analogous here now and some things that don’t apply because the cards in each deck are always different,” Hazen said. “But one of the things we had watched over the past few years in Boston is that you could have really good teams coming into the season on paper - and we had our share of success with those teams but sometimes we did not. We really saw what a lack of depth can do to those teams and not having the players ready to step in and take on the challenge. So when somebody went down, we had a bump in the road.”

Despite spending a year as the Red Sox GM in 2016, this is Hazen’s first year as the ultimate baseball decision maker for a major league ball club. While it’s been an external change for the 40-year-old executive, internal change has been minimal.

“It's not as different as I think it sounds,” said Hazen. “Ultimately, the responsibility is different and that last decision-making authority is a different dynamic but every job I’ve ever had in baseball, every opinion I’ve put forth, I’m ultimately responsible for those too. I think you take ownership of those and are accountable for those. I don’t look at this much differently.”

The next major test for Hazen will be the MLB trade deadline. Hazen will try and find a balance between giving his 2017 the best possible chance to win in October while maintaining organizational stability.

“You always understand that you have a responsibility for the present and future and we are always going to keep that in focus,” said Hazen. “The concept of being one player away, I don’t ascribe to that. Having said that, we are cognizant of where we are now and we have a responsibility to those 25 guys who have busted it for the first half of the season to do everything and anything we can to make this team as good as it can be.”

One D-backs player facing recent criticism has been Fernando Rodney, who’s blown save against the Dodgers last week created waves amongst the D-backs faithful.

“He’s our closer,” said Hazen. “We’ve talked a lot about this because we understand that the nature of the position brings upon it a lot of scrutiny. We would not be where we are if not for what he did mid-April until the end of June as we have to recognize that.”

The D-backs take the field again Friday in Atlanta, it will begin a 32-game run against some of the best teams in baseball. It’s a portion of the schedule Hazen highlighted before this season even began.

“We looked at the section of the schedule even in spring training,” Hazen said. “The schedule laid out in front of us is going to be one of the more challenging runs and we don’t have as many days off as we had earlier in the season so physically we’re going to have to grind through it. It’s going to be exciting. I think we play an exciting brand of baseball. Hopefully, the fans are excited about how we go about it. We know the expectations have been laid out there and now we have to go meet those.”

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