Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tonight's wacko game

I'm going to close my eyes the next time Clayton Richard makes a spur-of-the-moment throw toward a base, or attempts an intentional walk.

It's like watching footage of the Denkinger call, or hearing a good singer forget the lyrics.

When Richard aims fastballs and sliders at the catcher's mitt, the ball goes where he intends, or close to his target. The tough stuff, he does well.

So what happens when our hero merely has to lob the ball or throw it quickly to an infielder? The ball sails to the backstop, or swerves by an imperiled teammate like an overthrown Whiffle Ball. Sometimes, like he's channeling his quarterback days in the two-minute offense, Richard spikes the ball.

Richard pitched well tonight, allowing the Reds one earned run in 7.2 innings. He'll make millions of dollars if he keeps bringing that fastball and cut fastball -- both the life and accuracy -- to his outings. Unfortunately, he also suffered an unearned run caused by his throwing gremlin, which struck when the lefty attempted to throw to second base. Perhaps there was confusion about who was supposed to cover the bag. Regardless, a pitcher is trained to throw to the base.

The ball went five feet wide and into the outfield. Tasked with a similar throw later, Richard bounced it wide. (Update: Richard said "he just rushed" the throw that led to the fifth-inning run that broke a 1-1 tie. "I have to take an extra step," he said.)

I'm hoping this passes--soon. Richard is too promising, too athletic to allow this to continue, right?

That said, some of these Padres hitters are also a needle to the eyeballs at this early stage.

Reds infielders, meanwhile, made stupendously good throws spur of the moment. If you didn't see third baseman's Scott Rolen off-balance laser that nabbed Alberto Gonzalez at home plate, find the video. Even better was the barehanded pluck and throw by second baseman Brandon Phillips to retire Will Venable at first and deny the Padres a winning run in the ninth inning.

Several Tweeps are growing restless with Brad Hawpe, who took extra batting practice today but again looked uncertain during the game. Tax Day isn't here yet and the calls for Anthony Rizzo already are growing. I can't recall a player in San Diego getting booed this early in the season like Hawpe did tonight.

Nick Hundley, conversely, looks more comfortable with the bat than I've ever seen him.

Unless I'm on medication, I don't like seeing a No. 3 hitter trying to bunt with none out and a man on second base, though Chase Headley looked just as lost when swinging the bat as when bunting. (Update: Headley told me that he was under orders to bunt if Orlando Hudson reached second base in the ninth. After Hudson led off the ninth with an ICBM of a double off the right-center fence, Headley again checked for the sign. The bunt was still on. Headley popped his bunt to catcher Ryan Hanigan. He also struck out three times. "This one," Headley said of the defeat, "I take on myself.")

Sure, Ryan Ludwick is hitting into a lot of bad luck. At some point, though, the Padres have to get more value from a hitter who's consuming 15 percent of their payroll. Said this in the spring training wrapup here: Other clubs were surprised that the Padres didn't non-tender him last winter.

Loudest hit of the night belonged to Reds leadoff man Drew Stubbs, who took Cory Luebke out to dead center in the 11th inning to salt away Cincinnati's 8-2 victory. Most nights, Petco plays as big as Nebraska early, like Alaska late.

(Updated material) Richard said the defeat stung a little extra because the Padres "were so close to winning so many times." Venable agreed, saying "if you think too much about it, you're not going to do yourself any favors." Said Headley: "We're 10 games into the season so everything is kind of magnified."

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