- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It could have been worse, of course. A lot worse.
Vicente Padilla could have had a much different outcome than the one he had, which was that he was patched up and sent home to recuperate, which he did remarkably quickly for a man who had just found out what it feels like to have a bullet pass completely through one of his body parts. Fortunately for Padilla's sake, the body part in question was his upper right thigh, and the path the bullet took was miraculously free of major arteries.
And so, less than four months after a friend accidentally shot him with a small pistol while the two were target practicing at a firing range, Padilla is in spring training with the Dodgers, healthy as if the whole thing had never happened. As he held court at his clubhouse locker on Sunday morning, he was in good spirits, even laughing at himself, as he recounted the harrowing events of last Nov. 3.
The Dodgers are pretty happy Padilla is OK, too. Partly because, well, they're just happy he is OK. And partly because, after losing their most reliable starting pitcher to free agency this winter when veteran lefty Randy Wolf bolted for Milwaukee, they really needed Padilla to round out their rotation.
So even after the veteran right-hander's brush with mortality, the Dodgers were only too happy to re-sign him last month to a one-year, $5.025 million contract after he became one of their most important late-season pickups last year.
After signing with the Dodgers on Aug. 19, fresh from having been released by the Texas Rangers, Padilla went 4-0 with a 3.20 ERA in eight appearances, seven of them starts, then turned in a couple of outstanding performances in the postseason. The Dodgers' hope now is that he can pitch at that level for them for a full season, something that probably has a much better chance of happening if they can keep him away from firearms.
Padilla said the accident happened when his gun jammed, and his friend tried to repair the jam. It was during that attempted repair that the gun went off, the bullet entering the front of Padilla's thigh and exiting through his upper hamstring.
"When it happened, I thought it was going to be pretty serious, because it was bleeding a lot," Padilla said through an interpreter. "But I went to the hospital, and they said it wasn't serious. It didn't touch any of the muscles. They gave me some medication and said I just had to let it heal by itself."
Padilla said it only took about two weeks for that to happen -- which still left him with two months to twist in the free-agent wind until the Dodgers finally came calling with an offer. As with all signings, Padilla was required to pass a routine physical examination before the deal became official, and it's hard to consider a physical exam routine when the player in question has fresh bullet-hole scars on the front and back of one of his legs.
"We didn't know we were going to sign him at that time [of the shooting],'' Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "We looked into it as best we could. I talked to his agent, Adam Katz, and given my relationship with Adam, I was pretty sure I could trust what he was telling me. Sometimes, given no other recourse, that's the way you have to do it.''
Later, when the Dodgers' offseason picture had become a little clearer, Katz made a call to Colletti to ask him if the team was still interested in his client.
"I said, 'Yeah, once hunting season is over,''' Colletti said.
Well, hunting season is definitely over for Padilla, whose only concern now is the upcoming baseball season, which will be his 12th in the majors. Of the four locks for the starting rotation -- the others are Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw -- Padilla has three more years of big league service time than the other three combined, more than three times as many major league starts as any of the other three and more than twice as many innings pitched in the majors as any of the others.
"He has great stuff,'' Colletti said. "He also has more experience than Clayton or Chad, and he has more major league experience than Hiroki. But still, it's the same dynamic all the time: It's all about what you do with it.''
And that is a key question with Padilla, whose release by the Rangers last summer was due at least in part to the fact that he had come to be viewed as something of a clubhouse cancer. But in addition to pitching well, he also exhibited model behavior during his time with the Dodgers, fitting in seamlessly to a once-divided clubhouse that by the time of his arrival had seemed to come together into a discernibly tightknit unit.
Although no one will say it on the record, it is no secret that the unwillingness of the Dodgers -- or, apparently, any other club -- to give Padilla more than a one-year deal stems from that reputation he forged in Texas, which can't be ignored. But before the Dodgers rescued Padilla from unemployment last summer, they received assurances from Katz that his client wouldn't be a problem, and they sought that same assurance before signing him again just a month ago.
"I told Adam the same rules still apply, that [Padilla] is in the same position he was in a year ago, and he understands that,'' Colletti said. "He had a positive experience here. That other stuff is in the past. It's the same with any other [problem] in that if you're not part of it, you really don't know all the details.''
In other words, the Dodgers' only experience with Padilla to this point has been positive. If he stays healthy, behaves himself and pitches anything like he did for them last year -- and, of course, stays away from guns -- that won't change anytime soon.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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