With Webb not pitching, DL not ruled out

MESA, Ariz. -- Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes acknowledged Friday that pitcher Brandon Webb could open the season on the disabled list if he doesn't begin making more progress soon in his comeback from shoulder surgery.

Webb, the 2006 National League Cy Young Award winner, said he felt "stagnant" after a 45-pitch bullpen session Thursday. The Diamondbacks have no idea when he'll appear in his first Cactus League game, and Byrnes said the team plans to take the long-term view rather than rush Webb into action this spring before he's ready.

"It's a long season," Byrnes said. "If we get 30 starts from him, great. If we get 20, that's great. I think we just need to get it right.

"His shoulder is strong. He's done a lot of work. Now I think it's more a function of the inactivity -- 10 months between being on the mound. In many respects, he's about where we want him to be. But he needs to have four or five spring training starts to be ready for the first regular-season start. If that's going to happen, we need to know fairly soon."

Byrnes pointed out that in recent years, the Diamondbacks have taken it slowly with starters Max Scherzer and Randy Johnson when they were rehabilitating from injuries in spring training.

"If you have to concede a little bit of time at the front end of the schedule to keep them healthy for the long haul, that's what we'll do," Byrnes said. "We haven't had to make that decision yet."

The Diamondbacks need Webb to make a significant contribution this year if they're going to rebound from a 70-win season and contend in the National League West. A healthy Webb would team with Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson to give Arizona one of the most formidable top-of-the-rotation threesomes in the majors.

If Webb does begin the season on the DL, Byrnes said it's more likely the Diamondbacks will fill the void from within rather than look outside the organization for another starter. Former New York Yankees Ian Kennedy is expected to fill the fourth spot in the rotation, and Billy Buckner, Kevin Mulvey, Rodrigo Lopez and Bryan Augenstein are in contention for the fifth spot.

The Diamondbacks don't have much money to spend, and they don't expect to make a play for Braden Looper, Jarrod Washburn or any of the free-agent starters still on the market.

Barring a change of plans, the Diamondbacks expect Webb to throw live batting practice for the first time Sunday or Monday. But his scheduled April 7 start against San Diego will be in jeopardy if he doesn't pick up the pace soon.

"I'm impatient right now," Webb told reporters Thursday. "I'm ready to go and let it loose. I want to throw in a game and stuff like that. Obviously I'm not ready to do that right now. The next step is facing live hitters and that will be coming up."

From Opening Day 2004 through the end of 2008, Webb ranked second in the majors to Johan Santana with 1,135 innings pitched. He made three All-Star teams and reeled off a streak of 42 consecutive shutout innings in 2007.

Webb shut it down last year after pitching four innings against Colorado on Opening Day. He underwent a shoulder cleanup -- also known as a "debridement'' -- in August.

The Diamondbacks exercised an $8.5 million option on Webb in November, and he'll be eligible for free agency after this season.

Senior writer Jerry Crasnick covers Major League Baseball for ESPN.com.