Padres skipper Bud Black started Alberto Gonzalez at first base on Friday evening against the Dodgers. The results were predictably awful, as Ted Lilly and three relievers proceeded to blank the home club on four hits.
With Kyle Blanks and Jesus Guzman nursing injuries and a lefty on the mound, Black’s options were limited. He could have started rookie Anthony Rizzo, but Rizzo isn’t hitting anyone, let alone crafty veteran southpaws. Then again, how can he learn if he never gets the opportunity?
Gonzalez, on the other hand, is a known quantity. And what we know is that he is one of the worst hitters ever to play first base for the Padres. Here are the 10 lowest single-season OPS+ among men who played at least 1 percent of their games at first base for the Padres (minimum 200 PA):
Player Year PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ Kevin Higgins 1993 202 .221 .294 .254 48 Jose Arcia 1969 321 .215 .255 .272 50 Alberto Gonzalez 2011 265 .215 .254 .285 53 Julius Matos 2002 200 .238 .279 .286 57 Ted Kubiak 1975 223 .224 .308 .250 61 Mark Bellhorn 2006 288 .190 .285 .344 67 Brian Johnson 1995 224 .251 .287 .338 67 Fred Kendall 1972 289 .216 .247 .322 67 Luis Salazar 1987 206 .254 .302 .328 70 Carlos Hernandez 2000 212 .251 .316 .340 72 Broderick Perkins 1978 227 .240 .253 .341 72
Higgins, Arcia, Matos, and Kubiak never started a game at first base. We might have forgiven Preston Gomez had he started Arcia. Yes, Gomez had Nate Colbert, but Colbert began the season backing up Bill Davis. Besides, Gomez did give Roberto Pena (who just misses our list) 11 starts at first base, the same number Bruce Bochy gave Bellhorn in 2006 despite the presence of Adrian Gonzalez.
I’m not sure I have a point here beyond hoping that this is the last time we ever see Alberto Gonzalez start a game at first base for the Padres. Also, Wade LeBlanc struck out 10 batters, which is awesome because that might not happen again in his lifetime.
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Aaron Harang threw a gem on Saturday, holding the Dodgers scoreless for eight innings. The only scare was a drive to the warning track in center field off the bat of Matt Kemp in the sixth. Kemp dove away from a pitch right down the middle earlier in the at-bat, which elicited a response of “ooh” from the crowd but which was completely superfluous. He was in as much danger of being hit by Harang’s pitch as I am of being mistaken for Will Smith, although I have been known to get jiggy with it.
Harang is now 14-7 on the season. His .667 winning percentage ties him for sixth among Padres pitchers in a single season (minimum 20 decisions). He is the only member of the top 10 to pitch for a team with a losing record. Tim Lollar (16-9 in 1982) checks in at no. 11 for a team that went 81-81. Otherwise, you have to go back to 1975, when Randy Jones went 20-12 for a 71-91 team.
Because you’re dying to know:
Player Year GS IP ERA+ RS/G Aaron Harang 2011 28 170.2 98 4.88 Randy Jones 1975 36 285.0 156 3.74
Sorry, Aaron, you won’t be getting your own barbecue joint any time soon…
The other thing about this game I need to mention is Andy Parrino’s play at shortstop. Parrino isn’t really a prospect but he can do a lot of little things and it’s hard not to get excited about the opportunity afforded this former 26th-round pick in the wake of injuries to Logan Forsythe and James Darnell.
The Padres always seem to have a guy like Parrino in their system. J.J. Furmaniak, Sean Kazmar, and Lance Zawadzki immediately leap to mind, and I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting. Parrino is a switch-hitter who has batted .264/.368/.398 in just over 2,000 minor-league plate appearances. He has split most of his career between shortstop and second base, but has played everywhere except catcher (yeah, he even got into two games as a pitcher at Lake Elsinore in 2009).
Anyway, Parrino started on Saturday in place of team hit leader Jason Bartlett. Batting eighth, Parrino went 0-for-0, notched his first big-league stolen base, and scored a run. That’s two walks and a HBP, in case you’re wondering.
In the seventh, he also brought back memories of Khalil Greene’s 2004 performance against the Cubs with two dazzling defensive plays. Aside from Parrino’s plays, which were beautiful to watch, there are a couple of items worth noting:
- Rizzo’s stretch on the first play is one of the better efforts you’ll see. It speaks to his athleticism as well as his desire and focus. And for whatever struggles Rizzo may have experienced at the plate in his rookie campaign, his excellent glovework at first base has not gone unnoticed. In this observer’s eyes, he is every bit the defender that Adrian Gonzalez was.
- On the second play, you can see Rizzo applauding Parrino’s effort. On one of the other angles, you can see rookie catcher Luis Martinez running down the line to back up the throw. When he sees the play made, Martinez gives a little fist pump.
Fans may have given up on this team, but the kids out on the field haven’t. It is encouraging to see these youngsters playing with enthusiasm despite the fact that their team stinks right now.
For his various faults (Alberto Gonzalez at first base?), Black deserves credit for not letting his charges hang their heads. Yeah, they are professionals who are expected to give their best effort 162 times a year, but you never had a bad day at work?
Maybe I’m making too much of this, but as someone who doesn’t deal well with losing, I like seeing these guys play with passion. Everyone is auditioning for next year, and it’s bringing out the best in them. They won’t all make it, but some will, and eventually this team won’t stink anymore.
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While rummaging through old notebooks, I discovered an early attempt of mine to write about baseball. From an entry dated April 4, 1994:
I watched the first three innings of opening night, Cards at the Reds. 1st batter of the season, Ray Lankford of the Cardinals, works Jose Rijo to a full count, then drives a flat slider over the left-centerfield wall. Baseball is back.
Hardly profound, but there it is. And this:
Trying to put 1993 behind them, the Padres played their opener this afternoon against the Atlanta Braves. The Braves, now in the National League East under the new alignment implemented this past winter, showed that they are still the class of the league. In a matchup of two of the league’s best righthanders, Greg Maddux and Andy Benes… screw this. I love baseball but I’m not sportswriter.
This was a month shy of my 26th birthday. Patience has never been a strength of mine, and that was even more true when I was younger.
Besides, I was more into poetry so I wrote a poem about hiking through Palm Canyon in the Anza-Borrego Desert that became my first published piece. It appeared in a magazine called Wordimage, which if memory serves (like many things from that era, a copy of the magazine is probably around here somewhere, but I’ll be darned if I know where) was based out of North Carolina, a hotbed of minor-league baseball.
Then Kurt Cobain shot himself. I wrote a poem about that, based on a photograph taken while the coroner was examining the body. I also wrote a song that contained too many verses and a chorus earnest enough to make me wince 17 years later:
Anger of a generation, forgotten but not gone
You were seen as their salvation, something they had won
No apologies will be necessary
Hope you found a better place, hope you found nirvana
I’ve forgotten the chord progression but I remember the melody, which borrowed from several different Nirvana songs, notably “All Apologies,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and “Heart-Shaped Box.” I was never a huge fan of their music (I liked it well enough and recognize its importance to American popular culture), but Cobain’s death — like those of John Lennon and Stevie Ray Vaughan (whose spirit seems to accompany me on road trips) before him — came at a time when I still believed in heroes, even if they had their flaws.
Heroes are a reflection of those that would idolize them. Who among us is without flaws?
* * *
Sunday afternoon, Clayton Kershaw happened. The lone Padres highlight came when Aaron Cunningham cranked a homer in the fifth inning, by which time I had stopped watching.
I did watch long enough to see erstwhile “first baseman” Alberto Gonzalez boot a grounder off the bat of Matt Kemp. The home-away-from-home fans at Petco Park booed when E5 flashed on the scoreboard, and I wondered whether the Dodgers might lobby for a hit on behalf of Kemp’s pursuit of the triple crown. (Teams have been known to “suggest” scoring changes on occasion… heck, the Padres have done it.)
Apparently the Dodgers visited the official scorer, but his original, correct ruling stood. Such are the battles one wages when there is nothing meaningful left to fight.
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Speaking of Kershaw and Cunningham, both appear in my latest at Baseball Prospectus ($), which examines the impact the 2006 draft has had on this year’s NL West race. Cunningham is incidental to the story, but Kershaw is one of three first-round picks from 2006 who are excelling in the division this year. (San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum and Arizona’s Ian Kennedy are the others.)
The Padres swung and missed with their first pick (Matt Antonelli), but landed Mat Latos in the 11th round. That has worked out well.
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Latos was on his game Monday night. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth, eventually losing it when opposing pitcher Casey Coleman (son of Joe Coleman, third player ever picked in the MLB draft and winner of 142 games; grandson of another Joe Coleman, winner of 52 more) pulled a Bob Knepper on him, tripling to right-center with one out.
The Padres scored their only two runs in the bottom half, with Will Venable’s leadoff homer to dead center (he really went down and got that pitch) accounting for all the offense Latos, Chad Qualls, and Heath Bell would need. Mark Grant suggested that Coleman may have been tired from running the bases. Whatever the case, it worked for the Padres, who have climbed into a tie with the Cubs for second worst record in the National League.
The Astros are hopelessly out of reach, but San Diego could finish in a tie for eighth place if they win their final two games and get a little help. Such are the battles one wages…
Team W L Pct RS RA Dif Rockies 72 88 .450 729 764 -35 Pirates 72 88 .450 603 699 -96 Marlins 71 89 .444 621 697 -76 Cubs 70 90 .438 646 745 -99 Padres 70 90 .438 582 603 -21
- That is some fierce competition.
- Where would Pittsburgh be without Ryan Ludwick?
- Among horrible teams, the Padres have the best run differential.
Oh yeah, and Latos ended up tying a season high with nine strikeouts. He has done that twice this year… in each of his last two starts, in fact.
Cory Luebke has fanned nine batters three different times in 2011. Dustin Moseley and Tim Stauffer did it once each.
Only one Padres pitcher has cracked double digits in strikeouts, and that didn’t happen until Game 156. But you already know that because I mentioned it several paragraphs ago.
Yep, Wade LeBlanc.
When people ask you what kind of year the Padres have had, just tell them that Alberto Gonzalez started a game at first base, Jason Bartlett leads the team in hits, and LeBlanc owns the single-game high in strikeouts. That is more descriptive than 90 losses ever could be.
* * *
We’re headed out to our final game of the season tonight. Anthony Bass gets another start, which is good. I’d like to see him be a part of next year’s rotation… or at least notch more strikeouts in a game than LeBlanc.
This is always a bittersweet time for me. The baseball season is such a grind, and I am so busy trying to keep up with everything all summer that it becomes a giant blur and I seldom have time to enjoy the actual experience. But the moment it’s over, I miss it like hell.
Opening Day seems impossibly distant from me now. Soon, it will all fade like 1994, relegated to some forgotten notebook.
Yeah, well. There you go…