Vicodin Dreams

I will do anything to avoid a game in Albuquerque — be it getting hopelessly lost in that fine city, having my car smashed by a big rig en route from Missouri, or as now, recovering from knee surgery. A sensible person would simply admit he didn’t want to watch the Isotopes play, but where is the fun in that?

* * *

Chris Young came out strong Tuesday night, attacking hitters. Got cute later in the game — started nibbling, as he will do. Still, he gave up just one run over six innings — and that only because Emmanuel Burriss is fast and beat the return throw on what could have been a 5-4-3 double play to end the sixth.

Homers from Scott Hairston (fastball down the middle; some people never learn) and Nick Hundley (hanging change pounded to dead center). Hairston reached base all four times, smiling at some nasty pitches from Barry Zito as they floated past and hammering the ones that ventured too close to his bat.

The bullpen did its job, which hasn’t always been the case this year. Greg Burke worked the seventh, freezing Pablo Sandoval on a fastball that started in toward the left-handed batter before tailing back to kiss the black, a la Greg Maddux. It’s early, but I like what I’ve seen of Burke so far. He strikes me as a potential member of the 2010 squad, which is what the Padres are auditioning for now.

Edward Mujica delivered a scoreless eighth, and Heathmonster Bell was his usual stellar self in the ninth. At some point he will cough up a run or three, but he sure is fun to watch.

* * *

Listening to the Missions game on Wednesday. We’re supposed to be at this one. It’s 72 degrees and partly cloudy — crappy day for baseball, I lie to myself.

Right-hander Mat Latos has been recalled to San Antonio. Good for him, although I’m sorry I won’t get to see Latos pitch at Elsinore. He takes the place of Will Inman, who is headed to Triple-A Portland.

Me, I’m just lying here, listening to the game. Like when I was a kid drifting off to sleep with Vin Scully’s voice filling my head. Only I’m not a kid, and it’s not Vin Scully.

Luis Durango grounds out on a 3-1 pitch his first time up, then later pops out on a bunt attempt. Eric Sogard, recently off the disabled list (groin), singles and then walks.

Cedric Hunter starts in left. He and Durango alternate between left and center so both can get reps at the more demanding position. Neither is likely to provide enough offense to justify a corner spot at the big-league level.

The announcers go nuts over Hunter’s takeout slide on a potential double play in the sixth. Both he and batter Jesus Lopez are safe. Hunter then scores on a pinch single off the bat of Kellen Kulbacki.

Nathan Culp works six strong innings, needing just 59 pitches. Tim Stauffer starts the eighth. Sorry I don’t get to see him. I would give him a warm round of applause. The odds are against Stauffer, but I hope he makes it back to the Show. That kid’s career has been one long setback, and he deserves better.

Stauffer works a scoreless eighth and a perfect ninth to seal the 6-2 victory. The final out comes on a called third strike. Attendance at Wolff Stadium is listed as 4368, but we know it should be higher by two.

Maybe next year…

* * *

Finished reading Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country. Not his finest work, but I’ll take Bryson’s worst over almost anyone else’s best.

Started on Pat Conroy’s My Losing Season. I read The Great Santini in high school and remembered liking it.

This one is about Conroy’s time playing for the 1967-68 1966-67 Citadel basketball team and the lessons learned from loss, which seems appropriate just now. I’m supposed to read these after my surgery, but a guy gets bored sitting around, not driving all over the southwest.

* * *

One thing about the Padres this year is that the absence of expectation has removed all anxiety about how they are doing. If they win, great; if not — that’s great, too.

What’s fun is watching these guys audition for jobs next year. Some will stick with the Padres, while others may get a shot elsewhere thanks to their exposure now.

A lot of these players aren’t considered prospects and are here only because the Padres failed to stock their roster with big-league talent. On the one hand, that’s a harsh indictment of the front office and the players. On the other, how else would someone like Greg Burke show the world that he’s qualified to pitch at this level?

Sometimes a bad situation can create an opening. And sometimes that opening can get filled in a way that nobody could have foreseen. Not always, but sometimes. I don’t think Walter Silva is a big-league pitcher, for example. But Burke might be, and who would have guessed it? Heck, the guy signed out of a tryout camp. Those kids aren’t supposed to make it — which is why it’s all the sweeter when they do.

* * *

Jonathan Sanchez and Chad Gaudin fling baseballs in the general direction of home plate on Wednesday night. Sometimes they hit their target, but often they miss… by a lot.

Gaudin survives six innings. Thankfully Giants hitters can’t figure out the strike zone either.

Burke comes through again in the seventh. Gets help from David Eckstein, who robs Sandoval of what appeared to be a game-tying RBI single up the middle.

Sandoval later makes a bad throw to first on a ball hit by Eckstein. Pulls Travis Ishikawa off the bag. Replay shows that Ishikawa got his foot back on the bag before Eckstein’s arrival. Bruce Bochy comes out to argue and gets tossed… even though he is right.

Kevin Kouzmanoff continues to swing that bat well. Scalds a ball to second base his first time up, then blasts a first-pitch homer to left to lead off the fourth. In his final at-bat, he pokes a hit-and-run single to right — nice job staying back and shooting the ball through the hole.

The Padres need to make a decision about third base. Kouz is solid all around but nothing special. Chase Headley might have more offensive upside and doesn’t belong in the outfield. Headley has as much business patrolling left field as Martha Stewart does of being the next Bond girl.

Headley loses himself out there twice in this one:

  • In the second inning, Fred Lewis pops a ball back of shortstop. Chris Burke backpedals a long way to make a nice catch, but the left fielder has to take charge there.
  • In the fifth, Headley misplays a drive off the bat of Aaron Rowand into a double. Mark Grant observes that it’s a playable ball. I agree… for a left fielder and not a displaced third baseman.

Bell is brilliant. Again. Blows fastballs past Rich Aurilia to end the game.

Before that, Bell makes as fine a defensive play as you’ll see from a pitcher. Burriss hits a chopper high off the plate. Bell charges off the mound, snags the ball with his bare hand, turns, and fires to first to get Burriss by half a step. As we’ve established, Burriss is a fast man. I’m still shocked that Bell made the play — and made it look easy.

* * *

Jake Peavy reportedly was traded to the Chicago White Sox for four prospects but invoked his no-trade clause to kill the deal. I’m glad because I enjoy watching Peavy pitch and none of the kids coming to San Diego thrilled me.

Peavy is the new Phil Nevin: productive, outspoken, and fond of rejecting trades. It’s too bad the Padres have decided they can’t afford to pay Peavy. On the bright side, because of his no-trade clause, the Padres haven’t been able to finalize deals that minimize their return on investment thanks to an absence of leverage resulting from the fact that everyone and their mother knows they need to unload him.

Meanwhile, the Padres — apparently determined to divest themselves of at least some talent — shipped Jody Gerut to Milwaukee for Tony Gwynn Jr. I’ve covered this trade at Unfiltered, although I had to wait several hours before I could write something that wasn’t littered with obscenities and that didn’t expose me for the raving lunatic I’d become in the wake of the news.

I love the name on his back, but Gwynn isn’t the player that Drew Macias is. Or Will Venable. And those guys didn’t cost the Padres one of last year’s most productive center fielders.

My fear is that Kevin Towers either has lost his touch or is acting on orders he’d rather not follow. It’s almost as though the ghost of Johnnie Cochrane is working through him: “If you cannot win, you must acquire a Gwynn.”

This is a deeply cynical view, and one that disturbs me to consider, but it’s tough to see another motivation for shedding Gerut’s relatively modest salary in the name of acquiring inferior talent at the same position… The surreal part is that I’ve spoken with Padres fans who are excited about the trade.

* * *

I couldn’t bring myself to watch Thursday night’s win over the Giants. Too preoccupied with thoughts of surgery and disgusted at the Gerut giveaway. I hate when I’m like that, but I need to see an honest effort. At least when the Padres dumped Khalil Greene, they saved a good chunk of money and didn’t receive a worse shortstop in return. Was Gerut’s value so low that the Padres couldn’t fetch something they need, like a palatable alternative to sticking Chris Burke in the lineup every night?

* * *

Surgery went well. The doctor performed a more aggressive procedure than originally expected, which means a longer recovery time but hopefully a more satisfying long-term result.

Came home and had the unique pleasure of watching Peavy pitch in a Padres uniform as I emerged from my anaesthetic stupor. He shut down the Cubs for six innings, striking out 10 in the process. I loved every minute of it.

A night after scoring the game winner in his Padres debut, Gwynn collected his first hit for the hometown team. Roped a double that kicked up chalk along the right-field line in the fifth.

Adrian Gonzalez knocked his MLB-leading 16th homer in the seventh. Opposite field, on a 1-2 pitch from southpaw Neal Cotts. Ball caught too much plate and Adrian pounded it.

Bullpen did great work again. Luke Gregerson made Alfonso Soriano look terrible in the seventh. Three-pitch strikeout. Sliders down and away. When Gregerson faltered the next inning, Mujica shut the door before getting help from Bell to record the game’s final out.

Some of these kids are starting to show that they can pitch at this level. Maybe not great, but at least well enough to belong, which is better than could be said on Opening Day. And now Mike Adams, the Padres’ most effective reliever in 2008, has started a rehab assignment.

Everything looks brighter when you’re riding a hot streak, but there are legitimate silver linings with this club. Not enough to overcome a Dodgers team that doesn’t understand how much worse it should be with Juan Pierre in left field instead of Manny Ramirez, but still… it’s refreshing to see pitchers out there who know what they’re doing, as opposed to say, Frankie de la Cruz and Arturo Lopez.

* * *

The Padres have outhomered their opponents this year, 47-42. They’re 23-22, but their Pythagorean is 19-26. Does this mean Bud Black is a brilliant manager for coaxing four more victories than we might reasonably expect from this bunch? Or do folks still want to see him fired?

* * *

Josh Geer gave up an early home run to Derrek Lee on Saturday, along with some loud outs and I thought the Padres were in for a long evening. But Geer settled into a rhythm and ended up surrendering just the one run while fanning a career-high seven over 6 2/3 innings.

Got Kosuke Fukudome to chase junk in the dirt in the third and again in the sixth. Fukudome entered the game with a .452 OBP.

And more of the resurgent bullpen. With Bell unavailable due to having worked four straight games, Burke, Gregerson, and Mujica finished what Geer started.

Mujica made things interesting in the ninth, serving up back-to-back singles to Milton Bradley and Lee to start the frame. Then Micah Hoffpauir smashed a grounder in the worst place possible — directly at Adrian, who stepped on the bag at first, checked Bradley at third, then threw to second, where Chris Burke tagged out Lee to complete the double play. Geovany Soto then looked at a full-count fastball for strike three to end the game.

* * *

Storms all over the southwest. Hail in Flagstaff.

* * *

Young pitched well on Sunday. Gave up two runs in seven innings, both on a homer off the bat of Reed Johnson that bounced off the top of the auxiliary scoreboard in left and into the seats. I’m not saying that Hairston would have caught the ball, but he at least would tried to make a play on it. Headley was in left and didn’t even get there. He probably should sit when Young, an extreme fly ball pitcher, is on the mound.

Johnson’s seventh-inning blast cut the Padres lead to 4-2, but Kouzmanoff responded in the bottom half with a three-run shot of his own to the same spot. Kouz doubled earlier, drove in four runs. Pads won, 7-2, sweeping the nine-game homestand. When they lost to the Dodgers on May 1, dropping to 11-12, I’d assumed the Padres had seen the last of .500 this year. I suspect I’m not alone in this.

* * *

Smitty had a seizure just after the game. First since Opening Day. He had three more later in the evening, and we knew it was time for him to leave. I can’t move in my current condition, so Mrs. Ducksnorts took him to the hospital and put him down.

We’ve been preparing for this for a long time, and it still hurts like hell.

* * *

Winners of nine straight, the Padres returned to the road, where they had lost 11 in a row thanks to a pitching staff that ranked 26th among 30 MLB teams in road ERA. Entering Monday’s contest, only the Indians (6.28), Orioles (6.41), and Nationals (6.43) sported higher road ERAs than the Padres (5.95). The Padres’ home ERA of 2.93 leads baseball, making it increasingly difficult to dismiss suggestions that this staff is a product of its environment.

On Monday, they fell behind early to the Diamondbacks in Phoenix. The Snakes led, 5-0, after three; by the seventh, they were up, 7-1.

Then the Padres scored five in the eighth, one in the ninth, and two in the 10th to pull out the improbable victory and extend their winning streak to 10. The bullpen rescued an ineffective Gaudin (dude seriously needs to throw the occasional strike), working 4 2/3 scoreless to hold Arizona down while the Padres offense went to work.

Mujica picked up the win, Bell the save. Right-handed hitters, in case you’re wondering, are 0-for-32 against Bell this year. If the powers-that-be decide that the Padres deserve more than token representation at the Midseason “Meaningful” Exhibition Game, Bell would be a worthy candidate.

* * *

This has been a perplexing season so far. That a team can go 9-3, 4-19, and 10-0 in consecutive stretches boggles the imagination. Then again, the same can be said of life itself. As long as the games keep being played, we should be in good shape. Or is that just the Vicodin talking?

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18 Responses »

  1. Stream-of-thought writing for a week… Nice to hear. I miss the whole Ducksnorts “experience” and I say that without meaning to dis the gang at Gaslamp Ball.

    I’m one of the “serious” fans who are willing to give the Gwynn deal a chance. He is younger and has potential and I’m willing to flirt with the possibility of magical home-cooking. I wasn’t expecting the Pads to commit long term to Gerut, and he was only hitting .240. What I find unforgiveable about what was clearly a marketing move is that we could have had him off waivers earlier.

    I’m also a Kouz fan, although like everyone else I would like to see less of an all-or-nothing approach at the dish. I’m not so eager to move him and install Headley at 3rd. I think it could backfire.

    Ten in a row and back to 2nd. I don’t think we can beat out LA for the division, but I think this team (if Peavy is still here) can finish in second or third and maybe even approach 80 wins. We’ll see. They are fun to watch.

  2. Hope everything goes well with the knee Geoff! Sorry to hear about Smitty too. He sounded like a really special dog.

    As far as the Gerut trade goes… I have to admit that I liked the trade on our part. I did like Gerut a lot and he was really great for us last year but I think it was only a matter of time for him in San Diego. With his knee injury history I was always blown away that he lasted the whole season last year and in CF no less. I am also one of those people that wonder if Gwynn really got a fair shake with the brew crew. I think the kid has some really good potential to go along with better speed and what has to be more natural center field defense. Gerut always appeared really stiff and unnatural to me in center. I think it might do Gwynn some good to be home and close to dad for the first time in his career. Basically I think Jody’s was an adequate player but part of me always felt like sooner or later he was going to turn back into a pumpkin. I think in TGJ we get a talented kid who is controllable for 4 or 5 years (though I think he’s out of options) and he comes home to play in a park that is located on a street named after his pops. I don’t really expect him to become a superstar or anything but a leadoff type with a good ops and decent speed and fielding ability who loves being around his dad doesn’t sound to me like a horrible gamble. Sure if the name on the back of the jersey wasn’t Gwynn I might think of the trade a little differently but I think TGJ has some upside while still being on the good some of 30 and that’s the type of player I hoped to see this year. That’s just me though.

  3. “Cedric Hunter starts in left. He and Durango alternate between left and center so both can get reps at the more demanding position. Neither is likely to provide enough offense to justify a corner spot at the big-league level.”

    Any prospect has a high risk to not become what we thought he would (paging Sean Burroughs), but I think Cedric Hunter has a lot of Shannon Stewart in him. After having a batting average below the Mendoza, Hunter now has a .266 BA in maybe a tougher home park than Petco… His OBP will always be BA-dependant which isn’t ideal, but he’s got .6.9% K-rate (which is right in line w/ the 8.0% rate he put up last year). Don’t sleep on Hunter. He’s legit.