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Will Webb’s return come too late for Arizona?

Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb has been sidelined with a strained shoulder muscle since struggling in his Opening Day start, but played catch from 120 feet earlier this week and said yesterday that he’s still hoping to return before the All-Star break.

Before he can think about rejoining Arizona’s rotation Webb will have to stretch his arm out to throwing from 150 feet, progress to pitching off a mound, throw several bullpen sessions, and then complete a minor-league rehab assignment.

In other words, he’s still facing a long road back. Or as Webb put it: “You can’t just start going into games right away. You’ve got to build your arm up.”

Arizona has filled Webb’s spot in the rotation with Yusmeiro Petit, Billy Buckner, and Bryan Augenstein, who’ve combined to post a 6.80 ERA while the team goes 2-7 in nine starts. If you assume for a moment that a healthy Webb would have reversed those figures with the team going 7-2 in his starts, the Diamondbacks could be sitting at 26-22 right now and Bob Melvin would probably still be managing.

Unfortunately instead they’re holding the fourth-worst record in the league at 21-27 and even if Webb is able to return by the All-Star break the Diamondbacks will likely be completely out of the NL West picture (they’re already 12.5 games back of the Dodgers) and may also be trailing by double-digit games in Wild Card race (they’re 6.0 games behind the Brewers right now).