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Baseball Notes

Padres doing big things in that pitcher’s ballpark

By Nick Cafardo
May 16, 2010

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Run prevention. It’s a philosophy that’s working very well these days . . . in San Diego.

When he took the job as Padres general manager over the winter, knowing how expansive Petco Park was, Jed Hoyer made it a point to say that he was going to build the team around the ballpark.

That means pitching and defense and aggressive baserunning that manufactures runs.

So at 22-13 entering last night’s game, the Padres have one of the best records in baseball. Real or impostors?

“It’s been a lot of fun,’’ said Hoyer, the former assistant GM for the Red Sox. “We have a young team and a young staff and it’s exciting to be part of a team where you can really feel that youthful energy.

“Our pitching has been incredible, and we’ve been able to be very aggressive on the basepaths. I think we lead the National League in steals. Our manager [Bud Black] feels very comfortable with this type of team and talent.’’

At 22-12, the Padres had the second-best record in franchise history through 34 games. The only one to do better was the 1998 team (23-11) that won a club-record 98 games and the National League pennant.

After losing two of three in each of their first three series, San Diego went 19-6 with three sweeps. During that 25-game stretch, they outscored opponents, 107-58.

With Mat Latos’s one-hitter Thursday against the Giants, the Padres recorded their major league-high eighth shutout. They also led the NL in overall ERA (2.61), starting ERA (2.65), relief ERA (2.54), home ERA (2.01), and road ERA (3.16).

That’s run prevention, baby.

“At Petco, there are more balls in play than any other park,’’ said Hoyer. “It reduces offense and it really calls for an athletic team. Our hitting hasn’t been great, but our run prevention has been tremendous so far.’’

Hoyer certainly inherited an improving situation from Kevin Towers, which makes you wonder why Towers was fired in the first place by president/CEO Jeff Moorad. Towers pulled off the Jake Peavy deal, receiving four very good pitching prospects from the White Sox, including starter Clayton Richard. He also extracted three pitchers in the Scott Hairston deal with Oakland last summer, including reliever Ryan Webb.

Another Towers acquisition, Luke Gregerson, obtained in the Khalil Greene deal, has become one of the best set-up men in the NL, and closer Heath Bell (10 saves in 10 chances) came to the Padres in a four-player deal with the Mets. They got eighth-inning guy Mike Adams from the Brewers’ scrap heap, and when there was no room in the Tribe for him, the Padres got Edward Mujica from the Indians.

The Padres are doing it without righthander Chris Young, who is on the disabled list with a shoulder problem, and Tim Stauffer (2-1, 0.39), who had appendicitis and will miss some time. Kevin Correia was back this weekend after missing time because of his brother’s death.

Hoyer has put his stamp on things by acquiring veteran Jon Garland, who is 4-2 with a 1.88 ERA in eight starts. Garland might not fit anywhere else because of his propensity to give up the long ball. But at Petco Park, his style flies well.

And somewhere along the way, the Padres could be looking to add Craig Italiano, a hard-throwing bullpen candidate acquired from the A’s.

It doesn’t hurt that Black, a pitching guru from his years as Mike Scioscia’s pitching coach in Los Angeles, presides over a pitching-oriented team. Hoyer also wound up getting a perfect fit at catcher in Yorvit Torrealba, who has turned out to be a Jason Varitek clone in terms of game preparation for pitchers.

Can this keep up, or will the Padres eventually fall back and succumb to their $38 million payroll? There are mixed feelings around baseball.

The Padres scouted the Red Sox this weekend in Detroit, but don’t get too excited about Adrian Gonzalez just yet. They aren’t talking about him, though according to a GM who has engaged in some inquiries on Gonzalez, it wouldn’t take more than a losing streak for the Padres to put him back on the burner.

“That topic has been such a distraction that it’s nice to be able to talk about something else for a change,’’ said Hoyer. “Every question we had to deal with was about Adrian. Now we don’t have to deal with that as much.

“I think there’s such a confidence building on our team, given the success so far. We’re proving we can compete at a high level.’’

Hoyer said that if the Padres remain in contention in that very unstable division, he will be able to add at the trading deadline rather than sell off. Can you imagine a situation in which Hoyer goes to Theo Epstein for “a piece of the puzzle’’ rather than the other way around?

Hoyer, like everyone else, was surprised by the Sox’ poor start, but he said, “I just think they have too much pitching not to be a factor before it’s over.’’

The question is, will Hoyer’s Padres remain a factor?

“We’re just enjoying this right now and trying to improve,’’ he said. “Our players saw a lot of the preseason picks where we were projected for last place and winning 60-70 games. It’s nice for them to be able to show they’re better than that.’’

DOWNTURN
Iannetta hits a rocky patch
Catcher Chris Iannetta (left) has not been told when or if he’ll return to the Rockies. In one of the more shocking stories of the early season, the Rhode Island native, who appeared to be an established major leaguer after signing a three-year, $8.5 million deal, was suddenly sent to Triple A Colorado Springs after starting out with four hits (two home runs) in his first 30 at-bats.

“I wasn’t happy with the decision, and I was surprised and disappointed,’’ said Iannetta. “I don’t know what they’re thinking. I have no clue. I’ve asked and I didn’t get an answer.

“I had 30 at-bats and I know I didn’t have the production. They sent me down and I had no choice, no voice. I’ve just come down and played to the best of my ability and kept working hard.’’

The Rockies said Iannetta was going down because Miguel Olivo was having a good year and they didn’t want Iannetta sitting. Olivo was hitting .287 with 7 homers and 17 RBIs entering yesterday’s game.

Iannetta, who played at St. Raphael Academy in Providence and the University of North Carolina, said he’s heard rumors of a possible trade to the Red Sox, but “they’re just rumors. I don’t put any stock in any of that until someone directly involved actually tells me.’’

Asked if he would like to come home to New England, he said, “I love playing baseball. I have confidence that I can play the game offensively and defensively. Since I’ve been down here, whether it’s because I’m completely relaxed or what, I’m getting consistent at-bats and I’m producing.’’

Iannetta, who hit 18 homers in 2008 and 16 last season, is hitting .318 with 4 homers and 15 RBIs in 44 at-bats with the Sky Sox. He has a 1.059 OPS.

BOAT IS ROCKING
Mariners are feeling seasick
Haywire. Zany. How else can you describe the start to the Mariners season?

This was a team many felt could win the AL West. Tucked away in the Pacific Northwest . . . nothing bad ever happens there, right?

Start with the Milton Bradley horrors, which ended in him seeking help from the team to deal with personal issues and being placed on the restricted list. Cliff Lee started the year on the disabled list but pitched well his first time out. Think he’ll re-sign with the Mariners now?

The anemic offense led to the firing of hitting coach Alan Cockrell, a scapegoat for a poor lineup with no thump.

And then came Sleepgate with Ken Griffey, of all people — the guy who was supposed to be the stabilizing influence in the clubhouse but who unfortunately is losing his skills.

Larry Larue, one of the most respected baseball writers in the business, quoted two unnamed players that Griffey was sleeping in the clubhouse during a game and unavailable to pinch hit. Griffey and manager Don Wakamatsu denied it. What a surprise.

It was just last season that we praised Wakamatsu for the way he handled players and brought them together after a couple of tough years.

Too bad for Griffey, who should be ending his career as a Mariner in a positive light. If he homers once this season, he’ll be one of just four players in baseball history to hit homers in their teens and their 40s (the others are Ty Cobb, Rusty Staub, and Gary Sheffield).

General manager Jack Zduriencik knows, however, that you’re never that far out of it in the AL West, so he is out looking for a bat. The Rays yesterday recalled Hank Blalock, who was leading Triple A in hitting at Durham; he’s someone the Mariners would have looked at. They’re eyeing something bigger, but Adrian Gonzalez isn’t walking through the door.

ETC.
Apropos of nothing
1. If you put Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Baltimore in a three-team division, would all three finish last?; 2. Joe Torre (above) would fit with the Braves, Mets, and Blue Jays next season; 3. Could Davey Johnson be under consideration to replace Dave Trembley in Baltimore?; 4. Stats Inc. says only one of Ryan Braun’s 109 career homers has come on a hitter’s count (2-and-0, 3-and-0, 3-and-1); 5. The numerology of the Detroit Free Press’s John Lowe: Ernie Harwell died May 4 (5/4). He was honored at the first home game after his death, which the Tigers won, 5-4. Harwell called Denny McLain’s 30th win in 1968, a 5-4 game. And he called Bobby Thomson’s home run in 1951 that gave the Giants a 5-4 win.

Updates on nine
1. Matt LaPorta, left fielder/first baseman, Indians — The former Red Sox draft pick, acquired from Milwaukee in the CC Sabathia deal, has just two RBIs in his first 81 at-bats. He has not hit a home run and is batting .210. LaPorta is beginning to lose playing time to Russell Branyan at first and Austin Kearns in left. Next stop: the minors.

2. Kelly Johnson, second baseman, Diamondbacks — Arizona is trying to solve its bullpen crisis (7.37 ERA, worst in baseball), but it might have to deal someone like Johnson. Considering his excellent start (10 home runs, 21 RBIs), that would be difficult to justify. The D-Backs do have middle-infield depth with Stephen Drew and Tony Abreu, but Johnson’s is the name everyone seems to bring up. They would normally make catcher Chris Snyder available, but Miguel Montero is nursing a right knee injury and could be out another three weeks.

3. Hideki Matsui, outfielder/DH, Angels — He recently told Japanese reporters that the travel for a West Coast team is far more difficult than he imagined. The league office was certainly not kind to the Angels, who will log more than 50,000 miles this season, the most in baseball. Matsui was in a 6-for-56 slump going into the weekend and was especially horrible in day games (6 for 40, no homers, 2 RBIs). Friday night’s 2 for 3 with 3 RBIs vs. the A’s could be a start.

4. Carl Crawford, outfielder, Rays — He did a bit of an oops when he lashed out at ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine for saying that Crawford could have stayed on his feet to make a highlight catch last week. “I can’t believe he said that,’’ Crawford said. “Obviously, he don’t know what it’s like to have this kind of ability.’’ What Crawford doesn’t know is that Valentine had off-the-charts talent as an outfielder before ruining his career on May 17, 1973, while trying to make a highlight catch at Anaheim Stadium. Valentine caught his spikes in the chain-link fence and fractured his leg. He was never the same.

5. Gordon Beckham, 2B, White Sox — Beckham, 23, has reached a fork in the road in his career. Entering last night’s game he was hitting .193 with one homer and six RBIs in 119 at-bats. The White Sox have no plans to send him to the minors just yet, but given that shortstop Alexei Ramirez and veteran Omar Vizquel have also struggled, they aren’t getting much out of their middle infield.

6. Ned Yost, manager, Royals — The firing of Trey Hillman was inevitable; some wondered why it didn’t happen after last season. Owner David Glass, so successful with WalMart, has had no answers on how to successfully run a baseball franchise, with bad seasons piling up and no end in sight. Yost, who has ties to general manager Dayton Moore from the Braves family tree, will get his shot to turn it around. The question is whether the roster is talented enough. Don’t expect a Jim Tracy-like turnaround.

7. Matt Holliday, left fielder, Cardinals — Strange year for Holliday. He was hitting .308 entering last night’s game, but many of his hits have been meaningless. Entering the weekend Holliday was hitting .163 with runners in scoring position and .375 otherwise.

8. Andy MacPhail, president, Orioles — He used the new media to offer a three-minute “State of the Orioles’’ address to fans via MLB.com Wednesday. “We have all had to endure a terrifically horrendous start,’’ said MacPhail. “The first 18 games were terribly problematic for us and a miserable way to start the season.’’ MacPhail said the early issues were the explosion of the back end of the bullpen and an inability to hit in clutch situations. He asked the fans to stick with the team. “We appreciate your support,’’ he said. “Keep the faith. We’re going to get this thing straightened out.’’

9. Derrek Lee, first baseman, Cubs: If the Cubs could move him, they would, according to multiple scouts. The 34-year-old first baseman is in the final year of a five-year, $65 million contract, earning $13 million this season. The Cubs are looking to shake things up, but a taker for Lee will be hard to find if teams feel his bat is slowing. Lee also has a no-trade clause.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: “Yankees reliever Damaso Marte defines a LOOGY (a lefthanded relief specialist in there to get one out). Marte has made 13 appearances for a total of seven innings, and that includes going 1 1/3 against Boston in the 14-3 blowout.’’ . . . Also, “Last season for the Nationals, only John Lannan (9-13) won more than five games. This season, reliever Tyler Clippard is 7-1 with a 1.80 ERA in part because he’s allowed 12 of 20 inherited runners to score.’’ . . . The Ted Williams Baseball Camp in Lakeville ran from 1958-86. George Greene III and Joe LoRusso are putting together a reunion for all who had anything to do with the camp, to take place at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket before the PawSox game July 11. For more information, go to the Facebook group “Ted Williams Baseball Camp Alumni.’’ . . . If you want to send condolences to Ernie Harwell’s family, the address is: Julie Harwell, PO Box 2066, Farmington Hills, Mich., 48333 . . . Happy 27th birthday, George Kottaras.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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