Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Big Country

One way to know if a ballplayer has promise is the nickname test. We usually don't hear the nickname unless the club likes the player. Wilton Lopez, for example, wasn't widely considered a good pitching prospect. But once Greg Maddux starting calling him the Spanish word for "Ugly," I figured Lopez had a chance. Look at Lopez now, having a pretty season with the Astros, who claimed him from the Padres. I guess the Padres didn't know Maddux gave him a nickname.

I figure the Padres must like pitcher Matt Lollis, a 19-year-old right-hander. Because I'm hearing about his nickname.

"We call him Big Country," said farm director Randy Smith. "He is a big guy who is athletic. Think Rick Reuschel or Charlie Kerfeld. Pitches more like Kerfeld."

The Padres list Lollis as 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds. Smith said the weight may be closer to 280. Whatever the scales register today, Big Country is bigger than either Reuschel or Kerfeld, the latter a former Padres scout. Back when he was just Lollis, the pitcher went to Riverside Community College. The Padres drafted him in the 15th round last year. After rising this summer to the Ft. Wayne TinCaps, a team in the low-A Midwest League, he's at 5-1 with a 1.62 ERA in eight starts. That's sort of like Kerfeld's 11-2/2.59 season with the Astros in 1986.

"This guy has been really good,"Smith said. "Fastball's 90-95. Good slider. Changeup and curveball."

Monday, August 30, 2010

Status quo

As of now, the Padres don't expect to add any players via waiver claim or trade before setting their playoff roster. The door's always ajar, of course, if something unexpected happens, but that's where it stands now.

Bright side

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said the Padres shouldn't be distressed by the sweep (my FanHouse story). The team's pitching and defense, he added, remain formidable. A few years ago, when I asked Cole Hamels what it would be like to call Petco Park home, his face lit up like a child's on the first day of summer vacation. Hamels seemed in his bliss on Sunday. So did Phillies fans all three games here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Weird glitch

When throwing to home plate, Clayton Richard is a consistent strike-thrower. Elsewhere, Richard's throwing misadventures are becoming a bit peculiar.

Today against the Phillies, Richard threw errantly to both first base and second base. Previously this year he misfired a few times to bases. There also was that bizarre toss to the backstop in Arizona for a wild pitch, in the midst of an intentional walk.

None of this is news to Padres opponents. Remember when the Giants' Aaron Rowand tried to steal third base against Richard, a failed move that brought Rowand scorn from Giants fans? Looked like a planned move designed to exploit Richard's skittishness. The Padres are extra alert about aiding Richard, and anticipating the Giants might try something, they shouted at Richard to step off the mound. He then trapped Rowand.

As the saying goes, the ball will find you. Today when Richard fielded comebackers, he quickly lobbed the ball to first base, as if he didn't want to think about making a normal throw.

He isn't the first Padres pitcher to struggle with throwing to bases. Matt Clement went through it, too.

Acclimated to throwing off a mound, pitchers can look discombobulated when throwing off flat ground, or off the mound to a base. Trevor Hoffman, one of the most accurate pitchers of his era, used to express concern at the prospect of fielding a comebacker or a bunt and then throwing to second base. He said he went several years without having to make that play, and had mild doubts about his ability to do it. And he was drafted as a shortstop.

Millwood?

Interesting report from Ken Rosenthal today that the Padres may claim Orioles pitcher Kevin Millwood. One of Millwood's friends told me this summer that Millwood would like the Padres to acquire him. No surprise there. Pitchers view San Diego as paradise. Getting out of the American League East would benefit most pitchers, and Millwood has pitched well of late. The Padres have looked at starting pitchers for a few months. They acquired Jake Westbrook to swing the three-club trade that brought Ryan Ludwick. They haven't stopped the search.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Another close one

I like that the Phillies are in San Diego. Makes for better baseball and, because Phillies fans are coming out, a better atmosphere. A few entries ago, I quoted Jed Hoyer about how the schedule is turning bearish. The last two games are good examples. Against a lot of teams, the Padres would be 2-0; instead they're 0-2.

The Padres are pitching well enough to beat just about any NL team, but the Phillies have matched or exceeded San Diego's pitching. They've also played excellent defense and come up with timely hits and baserunning plays such as Jimmy Rollins' nifty slide on Friday.

A few other thoughts:

* The Padres are being challenged a bit by injuries. We're not talking about the psuedo-DL injuries that allowed the Padres to rest Mat Latos and to use Oscar Salazar to ease a roster crunch. The Juniors -- Tony Gwynn and Jerry Hairston -- are on the DL because they're actually hurt, and while neither player is a star, there's a ripple. I sort of doubt Gwynn would've caught Shane Victorino's tailing drive to left-center today that broke open the game. It would've been a great play by Chris Denorfia, who just two days earlier was slowed by a leg cramp. Denorfia gave great effort. But Gwynn is better at reading flyballs, and has better closing speed. He would've had a chance to catch the ball. Or, maybe he stays on his feet and holds Victorino to a single or a double, and the Phillies score one run fewer.

* As I wrote yesterday, Hairston's elbow strain is real, and, in fact, put him on the DL today. Which means more playing time for shortstop Miguel Tejada. He is capable, he's giving the Padres all-around good play, but he's also 36. Friday, Tejada showed subpar speed going to his left and thus was unable to touch a ball that got by for the only run scored against Mat Latos. Today, Tejada was a tick slow on a flip to David Eckstein, which helped Phillies veteran Mike Sweeney nix the doubleplay bid, good for a run. The Padres want to keep Tejada's legs fresh. Absent Hairston, that's harder to do.

* The Phillies are playing excellent defense. Jayson Werth made a good play on Friday to run down Adrian Gonzalez's 398-foot drive to right-center. Werth is a very good athlete. Most right-fielders wouldn't have made that play, and Gonzalez would've had a leadoff double or triple in a tie game. Werth's multi-faceted defense is extra valuable at Petco Park (in 2004, as a I recall, he made a tremendous throw from left field to nab Ryan Klesko at home plate, keying a big victory for the Dodgers). Too bad for Gonzalez that his drive didn't come earlier in the game, when the ball tends to carry better at Petco. Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz threw out two Padres runners attempting to steal on Friday. Today, center fielder Shane Victorino nailed Nick Hundley with a perfect, one-hop throw to home plate. One of the better throws I've seen all year, and like Luis Durango on Friday, Victorino anticipated the single and wasted no time. "I got a good hop," he said.

* The Phillies are doing to the Padres what the Padres have done to a lot of teams this year -- they're winning with pitching and defense, and just enough offense. Today, the Phillies had only three hits. "Things were right there," Phillies manager, Charlie Manuel told me. "(The Padres) could have won these games just as easily."

* The Padres had talked of today's game being a sellout. The rare afternoon start may have worked against them. The crowd of 37,000-plus was spirited, which partly had to do with so much red in the stands.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Phillies win opener

The run that defeated the Padres tonight required agility from the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins, who eluded the tag of catcher Yorvit Torrealba and touched home plate, a play made close when Padres center fielder Luis Durango quickly charged a hard single and threw a strike. Not that Phillie manager Charlie Manuel, one of my favorites, gave Rollins anything close to a 10 on the gymnast's scale. "It ain't tough," Manuel said of the acrobatic move. "Hell no, if you know how to slide. The angle of the slide is what made it good." When a Philly writer asked Manuel whether it was wise to wave home Rollins (it was a no-brainer), Manuel replied incredulously: "He's going. What the hell, Columbus took a chance, man."

The Tattooed One held the Phillies to one run in seven innings, and if shortstop Miguel Tejada had less wear on his tires, maybe the Phillies don't score at all off him, the third-inning groundball getting by Tejada for the run-scoring single. Latos has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his last 13 starts. He lowered his batting average allowed to .192. His numbers in the last 19 starts: 12-2, 1.61 ERA. "He knows how to pitch," said Roy Oswalt, who did Latos one better, sending the Phillies into the ninth with a 2-1 lead.

Schedule

Tonight's game against the Phillies begins a tough stretch in the Padres' schedule. From the looks of it, it's the toughest five-week stretch of the year. Typically there is a semi-breather just around the corner in the National League (or when the Mariners are on the interleague slate), but aside from four games against the Cubs, it looks demanding. "Our schedule in September is brutal," GM Jed Hoyer told me.

Hairston Jr. ailing, DL-bound

Jerry Hairston's throwing elbow is of some concern. The Padres plan to put the utility man on the disabled list and replace him with Oscar Salazar or Everth Cabrera. Slowed by a leg cramp on Thursday, Chris Denorfia probably will be in the lineup on Saturday. The Phillies are healthier than they've been all season. Their offense is sputtering, and Charlie Manuel said it's a mystery as to why his offense has been so inconsistent.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Young

Here is a FanHouse column that includes some Padres items.

I watched Chris Young throw 56 pitches today to Padres hitters. If his shoulder bothered him, it wasn't evident. He gave up a few hard shots, he threw some good offspeed pitches. His fastball, as expected, isn't up to full speed. "As he got into it, he threw the ball better," Bud Black said. "The main thing is, he's feeling healthy. His arm is gaining strength. Overall, it's a step in the right direction."


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Oktoberfest

Am in hot and humid Flyover Land today. Makes a person thirsty, prompting this update on Oktoberfest:

Date is Sept. 24, site is Park at the Park, first beer pour is at 5 p.m., last beer pour is at 7 p.m. Gates open at 4:30 p.m. Don't know if the proceeds will go to the Adrian Gonzalez Fund.

Now that they realize San Diego is the Munich of the West Coast, the Strategic Planners say they've stocked plenty of beer. They say the flow should be much better than in April, when some 3,000 thirsty folks reprised a San Diego State party and drained all of the kegs pronto at the inaugural Beerfest. Consider this Beerfest II.

You'll find about 25 breweries represented, about half of them local.

Don't know if we'll hear any Rugburns music, but that would add to the local flavor.

Doubt the Padres will make good on my suggestion to stock Hudepohl 14-K in honor of the night's opponent, the Cincinnati Reds -- Hudepohl Brewing's roots in Cincinnati dating to the 1880s.

As for the dude who dinged the Tattooed One's car at Beerfest, probably not wise to show up.

Last, I've been to the beer gardens in Munich, where the pretzels were out of this world.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Feet first, or head first?

Jaff Decker, one of the Padres' better hitting prospects, will be in a doctor's office on Thursday. The Padres want another look at his fractured knuckle. "We think he'll be back in September for the playoffs," said farm director Randy Smith.

Friday, August 20, 2010

2011 draft

Frankie Piliere, a former scout for the Texas Rangers, says the 2011 draft class is better than average and especially deep in pitching prospects. With two picks in the first round, the Padres are set up nicely. The Padres have the 11th pick overall as compensation for not signing Karsten Whitson. The pick is unprotected, so the Padres will need to make doubly sure that the player will sign with them.

How will the Padres spend the $2.1 million that Whitson declined to accept from them? Will it go into the Adrian Gonzalez Fund? Did some of the money go to other draftees this year? Or, will it all go into next year's draft budget?

For what it's worth, Padres general manager Jed Hoyer told me that the club offered more than $2 million to high school pitcher A.J. Vanegas, who, as the Padres and other clubs expected, will go to Stanford.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Whitson

Wrote here about Tony Gwynn lifting the first-round hex that had plagued the Padres. Then what happens? The Padres don't sign their first-round draft pick, Karsten Whitson. Maybe Whitson was spooked by the litany of misfortune suffered by Padres first-rounders. Guess he didn't know that Mr. Padre had broken the spell when he pulled the name of Kolbrin Vitek.

Gwynn hadn't heard of Kolbrin Vitek. I hadn't either until reading Baseball America. The Padres, cocky about Whitson, passed on Vitek, who went undrafted until the Red Sox selected him 20th. Vitek signed quickly and is having an OK first season -- .273, 10 doubles, four home runs, .358 on-base percentage, 55 strikeouts in 187 at-bats. Vitek, 21, is listed as a DH. An infielder at Ball State, he'll probably end up in left field.

Thursday in FanHouse, I'll write more about the Whitson result and other Padres-related subjects, but I suspect the Padres are more disappointed than they're letting on publicly. General manager Jed Hoyer and assistant GM Jason McLeod spent most of the last decade with the Red Sox, and no other club was more successful at signing draftees whose pricetag scared off other clubs. Every club talks about how important it is to sign and develop players. The Red Sox put a lot of money into that endeavor. Awhile ago, I wrote that one test for any baseball front office is its willingness to press ownership to cough up the extra money to sign a player that the scouts insist is worth the extra money. Was that an issue here? I don't know. Seems to me, this brings home the fact that Hoyer/McLeod aren't in Boston anymore. I also find it remarkable when a teenager walks away from $2.1 million. Especially in this economy. Especially when he's a pitcher.

Take this to the bank: The Padres thought very highly of Whitson. They seemed to compare him favorably with Pirates draftee Jameson Tailon, the No. 2 selection rated by BA as the best high school pitcher in the draft. Whitson doesn't throw quite as hard as Tailon, but he drew higher marks for pitch movement and competitiveness. I was curious to see him pitch, now it'll be with the University of Florida (or perhaps a junior college, in which case the Padres would retain his negotiating rights CLARIFICATION: Whitson can still go to a junior college, but the Padres have lost the negotiating rights to him).

More draft stuff: At Chargers Park last week, Philip Rivers was saying that his brother couldn't have been more excited about committing to LSU to play quarterback. As it turns out, the younger Rivers may have helped out the Dodgers, who were able to sign their first-round pick, pitcher Zach Lee, who is on scholarship at LSU to play both quarterback and baseball. The two-sport exemption allowed the Dodgers to spread out their $5.25 million guarantee to Lee. The Padres did the same last summer with their top-round pick, creating a $6.25 million payment plan for Donavan Tate, who had a football scholarship to North Carolina.

Context snapshot: Mat Latos signed with the Padres for $1.25 million, and Jake Peavy got $100,000 to give up a scholarship to Auburn. Bigger dollars don't guarantee bigger results. Am interested to see Lee pitch. A scout told me he's unusually athletic, not fast in the feet, but highly athletic. I know the Padres believe Latos' athleticism is a big part of his rapid improvement this year.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Aim again

When Padres reliever Ernesto Frieri finally had a bad game, tripling his 0.75 ERA on Monday, he appeared to experience a problem that seems counterintuitive: He struggled to throw effective pitches outside of the strikezone.

Frieri threw strikes consistently with his low-90s fastball. Ahead in the count, he had the free-swinging Alfonso Soriano dead to rights. A pitch in the dirt, or neck high, may have induced Soriano to swing and miss. Frieri was unable to get that done. The pitch that Soriano drove for a double wasn't a strike, either, but it wasn't the bait that Frieri intended for his two-strike pitches to be.

Greg Maddux used to say that he attempted to throw strikes that looked like balls to the hitter, and balls that looked like strikes. Frieri appears far more comfortable at throwing strikes. Strange though it may seem, he may have to learn to how to throw enticing pitches out of the strikezone. His across-the-body delivery may reduce his options in this area. However, he's with the right club. The Padres excel at throwing timely balls that look like strikes.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Farm success

Grady Fuson no longer works for the Padres and Bill Gayton no longer is the club's director of scouting, but some of the work they did for the organization is paying off now. Where would the Padres be without players drafted by Fuson or Gayton such as Mat Latos, Chase Headley, Wade LeBlanc, Nick Hundley and Will Venable? The selection and $1.25 million signing of Latos came after Kevin Towers scouted him and Randy Smith and Gayton pushed for it.

Fuson rankled some Padres holdovers after joining the franchise as a consultant in early 2005 and taking over scouting and development after that season. I got the sense that Sandy Alderson, the team's CEO at the time, was displeased at times with Fuson's evaluations of players within the system, notablyJoakim Soria, who became a star closer for the Royals after the Padres went against several staffers within their ranks and exposed him in the Rule V draft. The selection of Allan Dysktra with a first-round pick was an organizational boondoggle, and Fuson may have over-reached for Matt Antonelli.

I am told that Fuson had the final say in the draft starting in 2006. There was friction between him and Gayton, who oversaw the draft from 2001 through 2005. Gayton, as I've written here a few times, likely would've been a better fit as a national cross-checker than a draft director.

Bottom line, their combined efforts are a factor in the team's success this year.

Wasn't that LeBlanc who outpitched Tim Lincecum on Sunday? Fuson drafted LeBlanc and stuck with him. He may have been the only scout who believed LeBlanc's potential exceeded that of a No. 5 starter.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Latos

Mat Latos was up to the moment. Before a national TV audience, he pitched well enough for the Padres to win the game on Saturday. They didn't win the game, but the Tattoed One reprised his dominance of the Giants. The stakes were higher this time, and the retooled Giants are more talented than when Latos shut them down a few months ago. Latos still dominated. He looked like a pitcher who belongs on the playoff stage. Can the Padres get him there? And if they do, will Latos have red-lined the innings limit the club has set for him?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

PEN-itentiary

Jeff Fletcher of Aol FanHouse spells out why the Padres are so tough on the Giants. http://bit.ly/cKUShf

Saturday tidbits

With Friday's victory in San Francisco, the Padres improved to 8-1 against the Giants. A few thoughts:

* Clayton Richard competed extremely well. He stayed poised during early struggles. With Richard focused on home plate, the Giants' Aaron Rowand tried to steal third base, the kind of gamble that flusters some pitchers into a balk or a wild throw. Richard stepped off the rubber and threw out Rowand. Just a guess here, but I think Richard's recent struggles with throwing to bases encouraged the Giants to make him make a play. He made it. Later, when the Padres gave him a lead, Richard held it.

* The game seemed a little big for Giants picher Jonathan Sanchez. He misdirected a bunt, helping a wobbly Richard to escape early in the game. When the Giants gave him a 2-0 lead, Sanchez responded by plunking Yorvit Torrealba and grooving a fastball to Chase Headley, and the Padres took advantage to tie the score.

* Sanchez was unable to hold his stuff through the middle innings. Richard seemed to get stronger as the game unfolded.

* Pablo Sandoval is losing the Battle of the Bulge, and that continues to hurt the Giants. Sandoval had subpar footspeed as a rookie. Two years and many pounds later, he has lost a step. Or two. His inability to promptly run down Adrian Gonzalez was the play of the game, as the Padres gained two extra bases, leading to the go-ahead run. (Gonzalez did a great job of prolonging the rundown; anticipating Buster Posey's throw to Sandoval near third base, he got a good jump.) When Sandoval was a rookie, I heard a few things from the Giants and wrote that his weakness for late-night pizza could sidetrack his career. That has happened. It's a shame, because Sandoval has phenomenal hand-eye coordination and is passionate about baseball. But it's the umpteenth example I've seen this year of the Padres having an advantage because they are more committed to winning than some of their opponents. It's troubling to see a player that young and talented become a liability in some aspects because of his weight. And I say that as someone who also has a profound weakness for late-night pizza. I can recite the menus of every 24-hour taco shop in Pacific Beach.

* The PEN-itentiary was the final difference. No surprise there.

* For both teams, these are the kind of games that should help prepare the players for the playoffs. The Phillies and Cardinals are used to the pressure cooker. Will both the Padres and the Giants reach the playoffs? Should be interesting to follow.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Padres' new rival

Quick thoughts on Giants newcomer Jose Guillen:

* Guillen still has a pretty quick bat and a very good right-fielder's throwing arm.

* He is 34 but runs like a 40-year-old, which could hurt the Giants on defense, especially in the large right-center outfields at San Francisco, San Diego, Denver and Phoenix.

* Talk about Guillen being a cancer is overstated.

* Guillen will respect Giants manager Bruce Bochy. Guillen did not respect Royals manager Trey Hillman, who'd never played in the majors and was new to the majors as a manager. (Hillman was fired this season.) Bochy is a former major leaguer. Further, as Carlos Hernandez told FanHouse last week, Bochy is well-liked by Latino players on the Giants. Guillen will get a favorable report on Bochy from them.

* Guillen will swing very hard. He is streaky and likely rusty but has all-fields home run power, even in the NL West parks.

* In Kansas City, where the talent was both thin and young, Guillen tried too hard to become a leader and his look-at-me approach did not play well. He now is on a veteran team that doesn't need him to try to lead.

* Here's what a Royals source told me today: "Jose wants to win. He'll get along with everybody who wants to work hard."

* Padres manager Bud Black should know a lot about Guillen and how to pitch to him. Guillen was on the Angels when Black was the team's hitting coach. Guillen's behavior became a chronic headache for Angels manager Mike Scioscia and other field personnel.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Berkman OK'd Padres

Someone who prefers the Padres to the Giants is former Astros first baseman Lance Berkman. Houston scribe Richard Justice says that when the Astros prepared to trade Berkman last month, they needed his consent. Berkman said yes to the Padres, Rays, Yankees and Rangers. He'd previously said yes to the Red Sox. He said no to the Giants, Angels, White Sox and Tigers.

On a personal level, I wish the Padres would've acquired him. Berkman is one of the better talkers in baseball -- smart, funny, direct. He's fun to watch as a hitter, although hard to watch in the field. It'll be interesting to see if the switch-hitter finds his stroke with the Yankees. Looking at video, Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long noticed that Berkman wasn't pushing off with his legs.

WCB

Within this West Coast Bias column are tidbits on Sanchez, Giants and the Padres, and Wily Mo Pena. http://tinyurl.com/23335xa

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tree or Python shrubbery?


Bill Walsh created a coaching tree. Is Bud Black growing a managerial tree? His bench coach Ted Simmons is among the potential managerial candidates that the Florida Marlins are investigating. A former minor league manager, hitting coach Randy Ready interviewed for managerial jobs with the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners and could get a second shot in Seattle.

"Randy definitely has what it takes," Black said. "Given the opportunity, he'd do a great job."

* Field personnel say the pitching in the NL West tends to be better than the pitching in the NL Central, so this week's visit from the Pirates had to please Ryan Ludwick. Tuesday night, Ludwick's first two home runs as a Padre came against Pirates pitchers.

* Tough times for Corey Kluber, the Double-A pitcher that the Padres dealt to acquire Ludwick. In two outings with Cleveland's Double-A club, Kluber is 0-2 with a 10.13 ERA and a .487 batting average allowed. Maybe the realization that he likely won't pitch in San Diego put him into a depressed state of mind.

* Another San Diego pitcher employed by the Indians also is struggling: San Diego State alum Justin Masterson is pouring ice water onto Cleveland' belief that he can become a starting pitcher. Since the Indians acquired him in the Victor Martinez trade, Masterson has started 33 games, and his record is 5-18.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fenway, Eck

* The tentative interleague schedule for 2011 has the Padres in Fenway Park and the Twins' new ballpark in Minneapolis. The Red Sox series is a bonus of sorts as the Padres weren't scheduled to face the American League East next year. Going forward, the Padres should try to change out of the "natural rivalry" with the Mariners. There's no sizzle there.

* David Eckstein hit the ball sharply in early batting practice today, but he is still slowed by a calf strain. "He is four or five days from (attempting a) full sprint," said manager Bud Black.

* The Padres used the disabled list (or was it the deception list?) to buy extra rest for Mat Latos and later with Oscar Salazar to fix a roster snag. So, why not use the DL to replace Matt Stairs, who is batting .182 with a .247 on-base percentage? Admittedly, pinch-hitting is exceptionally difficult, yet it seems like Aaron Cunningham has more to offer. The DL would allow the Padres to retain Stairs, who reportedly is a mentor to several players, then activate him when the roster expands in September. With the addition of Ryan Ludwick, the Padres supposedly became more capable against right-handed pitching, which supposedly was a big part of why Stairs was signed last offseason.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Jaunty Jint

Looks like I'm not the only sportswriter who's due a motivational fee from the Padres. By writing down what Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez had to say, old friend John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle gave the Padres some reading material for their upcoming showdown with the second-place Giants.

"We're going to play San Diego, and we're going to beat them three times," Sanchez said on Sunday. "If we get to first place, we're not going to look back."

Funny, about the same time that Sanchez was talking, a veteran scout was telling me that the Giants "definitely" are the team to beat in the NL West.

With so much excitement for the orange-and-black, I thought it was Halloween rather than August.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

1998 redux

Want to feel a little older today?

Here's the ticket.

Quilvio Veras: "I'm about to turn 40."

Tony Gwynn: "Get out of here. Forty?!?"

Gwynn: "I just turned 50!"

Q: "Unbelievable. No!"

Veras was at Petco Park last week. So was Carlos Hernandez. Now a minor league instructor with the Royals, Veras looks like he could still play baseball. In fact, he's more muscular than when he was as San Diego's leadoff hitter in 1998. "Q knows that (David) Eckstein is on the DL, so he's here to make a comeback," cracked Hernandez, the Padres' starting catcher in 1998.

I quoted Hernandez recently. He spoke very highly of Bruce Bochy, the former Padres manager. Carlos said that several Latino players on the Giants respect Bochy immensely. Bochy and the Giants have good mojo working for them, Carlos added.

Bochy's fourth Padres team went to the World Series. This is his fourth Giants team, and Bochy told me in April that it's his best Giants team. I get the sense that Bochy is unpopular with a lot of Giants fans, which is a bit confusing to me. That's a subject for another story.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Seamhead stuff

* When the White Sox tried to trade for Jake Peavy in May 2009, pitching prospect Dan Hudson was part of their offer. The second time that Chicago came after Peavy, the Sox pulled Hudson out of the deal. Hudson eventually was traded to the Diamondbacks for Edwin Jackson, and he pitched well against the Padres tonight to lead Arizona to the 2-1 victory. Hudson was impressive. Lively fastball. Didn't need a breaking ball. Pitched well both inside and inside off the plate, and that's atypical for a young pitcher.

* The old scouts have an expression: Chop his thumbs off. In other words, throw chest-high, inside fastballs to stay off the barrel. Scouts with the Diamondbacks and Dodgers seemingly have implored their pitchers to take that approach with Padres newcomer Miguel Tejada, whose bat isn't as fast as it used to be. By the end of tonight's game, Tejada was shaking his hands to restore feeling to his fingers. Hudson beat him with inside fastballs a few times. A few days ago, Tejada unloaded on a fat, slowish fastball from Ted Lilly, but he's struggled to get his barrel to inside fastballs.

* I don't recall Ryan Ludwick being quite so busy at the plate when he was with the Cardinals. I almost expect to see sawdust come off the bat handle. There's inherent stress to being traded during a pennant race, and I wonder if there's extra adrenaline at work.

Another trade?

The Padres are still surveying the trade market for starting pitchers. They want someone who can absorb innings. The Padres are near the end of the waiver line, so the pickings likely will be slim. Padres candidates in-house include reliever Tim Stauffer and prospect Cory Luebke, who is in Triple-A.

Until recently, Luebke was having a good season. "He did not look good," said a non-Padres scout who saw the left-hander recently. "His fastball was real straight. His breaking ball was erratic. Changeup wasn't there. Maybe it was an off night."

As part of the latest West Coast Bias column, I touched on the Padres and Chargers. http://tinyurl.com/2d8sk7s

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The flip side

The Padres like that newly acquired Ryan Ludwick flogs right-handed pitching. Ludwick's performance against left-handers this year is another story -- a .215 batting average, a .289 on-base percentage and a .392 slugging percentage. If the trend continues, Bud Black could be confronted with a ticklish decision. Does he platoon Ludwick?

How would Ludwick respond if Black sat him twice a week? The veteran reportedly was displeased that his playing time was cut in St. Louis this year.

The Giants will provide a litmus test for Black and Ludwick. Three of Bruce Bochy's starting pitchers are left-handed, and nine games are left between the second-place Giants and first-place Padres. The Padres have six games left with the Dodgers, who now have a second lefty starter, Ted Lilly, to go with Clayton Kershaw. Lilly's artistic performance on Tuesday recalled Jonathon Niese's dominant outing against the Padres in New York two months ago. Similar styles.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ludwick's debut

Tweeted a few tweets regarding Ludwick's debut yesterday. Doubt the Padres win that game without him. No way of proving it, but that's what I saw. In my eyes, the Padres are one victory better than they would've been without Ludwick. And a pretty big victory at that.

I guess that may seem an over-reaction on my part, because a few others players contributed. So, I'll balance it out and say the challenges posed by Petco Park, NL West pitching, a checkered health profile and not having Albert Pujols behind him are real, but there's a lot to like about Ryan Ludwick. What I didn't realize until he was traded was how beloved he was in St. Louis by teammates and fans. Heard from a lot of Cardinals fans who were broken-hearted and dismayed. For what it's worth, my fellow ball scribes in St. Louis speak very highly of Ludwick. Beyond his baseball talent, he's a stand-up person, they said.

One of the things I'd been hearing and reporting for the last month or so was that the Padres considered their anemic results against right-handed pitching to be a significant weakness. Ludwick represents a pretty big upgrade. He is a right-handed hitter but beats up right-handed pitching. How many right-handed pitchers are better than Marlins ace Josh Johnson?

Ludwick is not accustomed to being a pinch-hitter. The task immediately grew tougher when the first pitch he saw from Johnson was a borderline strike. Then it was 0-2. Yet Ludwick found a way to succeed. To come back and drill a single off Josh Johnson -- very impressive. Ludwick's slide at home plate also was well done.

One other thing about the trade market. The Padres were searching for starting pitching as well. As it turned out, they found a starter who was quite useful to them -- Jake Westbrook of the Indians. The Cardinals didn't have either the goods or the inclination to trade for Westbrook straight up, so Padres GM Jed Hoyer got him for them.

As for the pitching prospect, Corey Kluber, who went to the Indians and pretty much allowed the Padres to get Ludwick, I've heard overly harsh comments from pundits who imply that he's just a warm body. Sorry, that's unfair to Kluber, a hard worker who has made a lot of improvement and, more to the point, is not just a warm body. Padres people seemed to genuinely like Kluber and say he is, in fact, a legitimate prospect. (Not that this is a knock on Kluber, per se, but the Padres also said he's quiet to the point of being a statue. He shows absolutely no emotion on the mound.) Farm director Randy Smith said Kluber should reach the major leagues and could become a nice starter in the back of a rotation. Former Padres farm director Grady Fuson also spoke well of Kluber, both before and after the trade. While Kluber isn't viewed as a pitcher who will become a No. 1, 2 or 3 starter and wasn't among San Diego's top two pitching prospects, the Padres and Fuson said he could end up being a No. 4 or No. 5 starter and if that fails, a pretty good middle reliever. He has an excellent delivery and a clean health record. In today's market, advanced pitching prospects of that caliber have more value than you might think. I know the Padres are rooting for him and for Nick Greenwood, the finesse lefty who went to the Cardinals in the three-team deal. Both were drafted by the Padres. The Padres selected Kluber in the fourth round out of Stetson in 2007. Later that summer, I heard that it was a very tough negotiation that tested Bill Gayton, who was the Padres' scouting director, and scout Joe Bochy. In the end, the Padres signed Kluber for $200,000, which was above the commissioner's office recommendation for that slot. How does that investment look now? Looks like a good scouting job by the Padres.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

DL

Needing to open up a roster spot for Ryan Ludwick yet wary of altering the team's chemistry, the Padres announced today that utility man Oscar Salazar will go onto the disabled list because of a sprained right Achilles tendon. The move spares the Padres the unpleasantness of demoting or cutting a player, and allows Everth Cabrera to provide depth in the middle infield until David Ecsktein comes off the DL.

I guess that game-winning single that Oscar hit on Thursday was more taxing than we saw. Or perhaps it was the celebration afterward, when Oscar jumped around like a gymnast.

My post on July 20 applies here. To refresh, the Padres seemingly used the DL to buy extra rest for Mat Latos in July. I think the Padres will probably use the DL likewise at least once more before the roster expands in September. Then again, maybe Salazar's sprain will waylay him for the rest of the season.

Do this stuff amount to anything? Not really.