Petco warming up to Padres

News and notes from around the majors including an update on the Padres' adjustment to their new park.

Originally Published: August 27, 2004
By Gary Miller | Special to ESPN.com

  • The Padres are getting adjusted to Petco Park, just as the waterfront facility adjusts to the vagaries of a summer in San Diego. The park, which was cool with little carry in the air in April, May and most of June, is warming as the summer stretches on, and Padres hitters are taking a season to warm to it. Petco will never be hitter-friendly, especially to the lefty power of Brian Giles and Ryan Klesko. Klesko says he's made adjustments, abandoned his passion for upper-cutting his swing and started going to the generous gaps. The new park is no longer as strange, but in a critical final-month stretch, the Padres must introduce themselves to the St. Louis Cardinals. They haven't met all year, and the Padres will end a 10-game road trip in Busch next week, then welcome St. Louis to Petco when they return home. Only the Cardinals have a better record than Bruce Bochy's bunch away from home.

    Khalil Greene
    Khalil Greene has adeptly made acrobatic plays for the Padres.

  • The fortunes of the friars may rest firmly in the hands of their gifted, if unlikely, double-play combination. With nearly nightly "Web Gems" at shortstop and timely offensive contributions, Khalil Greene is destined to become the franchise's second rookie of the year, joining Benito Santiago. Greene's serene composure belies a grit and passion for the game in his actions. His phenomenal fielding is well documented on tape, and a rookie of the year award and playoff berth would certainly stamp his reputation. But nothing speaks louder of the former college player of the year from Clemson than what Phil Nevin told me. Nevin, a former No. 1 overall pick in his own right out of Cal State Fullerton, has played with the Astros, Tigers, Angels and Padres. He's been on the bench withJeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson, Cecil Fielder, Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds and Tony Gwynn. In total candor and seriousness, Nevin said "no player has made a greater impression or influence on how to conduct myself on the field than Khalil Greene." Think about the enormity of that statement from one of the veteran clubhouse leaders of this team about a rookie. You get an idea of how special Greene is as a person.

  • Towers doesn't want to take credit for being a genius in the signing of Mark Loretta. After all, originally it was a one-year, $1 million deal. He needed a second baseman and figured Loretta would at least hit, get him through 2003, and they'd go from there. As for explaining how Loretta has become perhaps the best offensive second baseman in the league, Towers says it's a combination of things. In Loretta's Milwaukee days, he couldn't stay healthy with an odd series of injuries, and he shuttled between three infield positions. At Houston, he started to stabilize, avoid the injuries and found playing time. Now he's built on that and blossomed by cementing himself at second base and playing every day. It's mind-boggling to Towers that Loretta's on a pace to claim Tony Gwynn's franchise records for hits and doubles in a season. If he does, it's fitting, Towers said. No one reminds him more of Gwynn in terms of his approach to preparation and video work than Loretta. Towers is starting to look like a genius for last August's contract extension through 2005, which won't go over $3 million until the club's option year of 2006. Loretta, who is battling for a batting title, now has a career .303 average.

    Phil-in catcher
    Phil Nevin could have used a bit more of his shortstop's calm demeanor when he went off about the dimensions of Petco Park recently to general manager Kevin Towers. But anyone concerned about the lingering effects of that exchange, or Towers' previous attempts to trade Nevin, needs to see the two laughing and kidding with each other in the San Diego clubhouse.

    Even more emblematic of Nevin's attitude, and maybe a bit of the "Greene Factor," was his willingness to go behind the plate and catch four innings Aug. 15. Nevin hadn't caught in five years, but an injury to Miguel Ojeda necessitated an emergency need and Nevin (who had knee surgery just a month earlier) volunteered.

    Nevin loved it, especially setting up the hitters and calling pitches for Adam Eaton, Scott Linebrink and Akinori Otsuka. Not a single passed ball in four scoreless innings, but Nevin did have one difficultly. Otsuka called him out to the mound to tell Nevin to "get lower" with his target as best he could in fractured English. As best as he could Nevin told him that's as low as a 33-year old coming off knee surgery was going to get.

  • As for Greene, Towers has never seen anyone like him. While he's on the treadmill, he's seen Greene jumping back and forth over the benches for the bench press, almost like a Hungarian tumbling act, to practice diving for balls in the gap and leaping to take away hits. When Greene sees someone make a spectacular play on video, he says, "I want to make that play," and he practices it repeatedly in the gym or during infield, and sure enough, before long you see him doing it on Web Gems.

  • Greene is also an aspiring rapper, with a none-to-able assist from Sean Burroughs. Veterans like Nevin wanted to make Greene do something like the Clemson fight song on the team bus, a la NFL training camp hazing. But Khalil has convinced them to give him a little more time to finish the rap he's been tinkering with all season, which will have a line about each of his teammates. Maybe it will eventually include a rap about clinching a playoff berth.

  • Todd Zeile has switched teams 15 times in his 15-plus seasons in the majors. He's now on his second go-round with the Mets, the fourth team he's played for twice. He's finally calling it a career, and in homage to that, he'd like to go out as he came in -- as a catcher. There, next to Vance Wilson and Jason Phillips' gear bags, is one for No. 27 now, as Zeile is preparing to catch a game before the season ends. Art Howe knows about it, and hopes to honor his desire. Zeile's prepped with a few bullpen sessions already. He hopes to catch Tom Glavine in a game the Mets are certain is meaningless (for them or the opposition?) and come full circle as a player. Maybe he can celebrate his 39th birthday that way Sept. 9. He may even take an at-bat left-handed. Most of the season, for his final "one swing" in the cage during batting practice, Zeile takes it left-handed. Thursday he put it out of Shea, which is all the better, because in the batting practice points game, batting lefty counts double!

    Ordonez
    Ordonez

    Thomas
    Thomas

  • Should a veteran player be in the clubhouse or around the dugout if he's on the disabled list? The rule is, a player on the 60-day disabled list cannot be in the dugout, and as Ozzie Guillen says, "I don't want them around here anyway. They can't play, and I don't want to risk the chance their bad luck will rub off and get someone else hurt." He's referring to his two best offensive players, Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez. Ozzie's only kidding about the bad karma (probably), but he honestly sees no purpose to having them around, or anything wrong with their absenteeism. I wonder though, what effect it has when a team is sinking fast in the standings like the White Sox are, and Ordonez and Thomas aren't even around to lend moral support. Thomas, the face of the franchise and a former teammate of Guillen's, recently found out his foot and ankle injuries will keep him on the shelf for the rest of the season. Ordonez's situation is a bit more complex, considering he's a free agent, and the re-injuring of his knee, which also cost him the season, reduced him to tears. The four-time All-Star may very well have played his last game for Chicago, and maybe he doesn't want to grow any closer to a franchise for which he's played 1,001 games.

  • Ben Davis came up with the Padres as Gwynn was breaking down, but said Gwynn was always hanging around, encouraging and instructing, even when he couldn't play during long stints on the disabled list. When Davis went to Seattle, it was a similar situation with Edgar Martinez, who misses more time than he plays but is always around when he's not in the trainer's room. That's the way it is for many players who have only been with one team their whole career. Davis doesn't get the influence of Thomas or Ordonez as he acclimates to a third team, but he could hardly do better than to come to a team with Sandy Alomar Jr. Davis leans on Sandy a lot for catching advice, but more than anything, Alomar schools Ben in a crash course on the Sox pitchers.

    Garcia
    Garcia

    He knew Freddy Garcia well from their battery days on the Mariners, but no one can seem to figure out why Garcia is 7-0 in the daylight and 3-10 at night, including another rough outing Sunday night. Not even pitching coach Don Cooper has a theory, except to say it has more to do with who those games were played against and whether it was home or road, than what time of day it was. Chicago is working with Garcia on command and location of his fastball. In Cooper's analysis, "He's great on the arm-side to right-handed batters, but has trouble locating down and away to right-handed batters, or down and in to lefties." With that in mind, Cooper took the man they call "Chief" out for his bullpen session and had him throw 10 straight fastballs down and away from the right side. Seven of the 10 were right where they wanted them, and if Garcia can get that kind of consistency in the game, his highly developed curve, slider and changeup will be that much better.

    While not even Garcia can explain his day/night dilemma, Cooper has a theory about why both Garcia and Mark Buerhle tossed their worst games of the season last week. It might be a temporary case of dead-arm syndrome. Both have been in the top five in innings pitched most of the season. Now Chicago has been forced to shut down Garcia for at least one start and hopes the rest will heal his "slight forearm strain" and rejuvenate Freddy for the White Sox's desperation September push. The Sox continue to suffer through a series of now SEVEN different starters in the fifth spot, and now Jason Grilli comes back to take Garcia's turn. Guillen would love to go to a four-man rotation, especially with the acquisition of Jose Contreras. But Chicago has only one scheduled off day until mid-September, and that combined with the ace's recent struggles make thoughts of a four-man rotation folly.

    Burks
    Burks

  • In the other dugout on Sunday night sat Ellis Burks, a former White Sox player who himself is battling back from a second knee surgery. Burks still hopes to make it back to the active roster by September, maybe by his 40th birthday Sept. 11. He has resumed batting practice after re-tearing cartilage during his rehab in Pawtucket, just as he was about to get back to the Red Sox in July. But even when Burks was nowhere near playing, hitting or running ... there he was in the Fenway Park clubhouse or dugout before the game. In fact, Burks was far more visible than Pedro Martinez or the now-departed Nomar Garciaparra. David Ortiz, who once again is making a strong run at the MVP award, calls Burks his "running mate." They hang before, during and after games. Ortiz said it's hard to measure how much the veteran presence of Burks adds to the atmosphere around the team, but it's substantial. Here's a guy whose best days are behind him even if healthy, struggling to eke out his remaining big league at-bats, and yet he's always the most positive, helpful guy around the park.

    Manny Ramirez
    The Red Sox have seen a more affable Manny Ramirez this season.

  • Boston's clubhouse is back to the raucous, barnstorming atmosphere it had during last season's run. No one wants to blame Garciaparra for the team's malaise in May, June and July, but it's no coincidence the team has been on a tear since just after the July 31 trade. Boston can't replace Garciaparra's bat, but Orlando Cabrera is acclimating to his surroundings and the task of replacing a New England legend. The Red Sox are jelling. Cabrera is deeply involved in the effusive physical contact among these players. Everyone has an elaborate signature handshake or salutation that gets the dugout going before the first pitch, and after every well-executed play or at-bat, and that pepper the postgame congratulation parade. Manny Ramirez leads the league in homers, but what he wants everyone to know is he "leads the league in hugs." Ramirez is getting so profuse with his affectionate embraces, it has spread beyond his teammates to the media, many of whom he refused to talk to in seasons past. For some reason I warranted two Sunday, and dugout producer Ben Bouma got a hug, too. Of course, no opposing pitchers get hugs, nor feel much like giving one to Manny. He came to Chicago with only 10 RBI since the All-Star break. By the time he left Cellular Field, he had homered in three straight games and left with 11 RBI. Ramirez can still be a carnival act in left field: Witness his infamous extra cutoff on David Newhan's inside the park home run at Fenway. He fell down on a ball in Chicago and nearly cost Boston the game. When he got back to the dugout, he mock shotgunned himself and said, "there goes my Gold Glove."

  • Before Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz came along, there wasn't much call for a congratulatory reaction for great defense. Now it happens almost every game. Manager Terry Francona said the rise in the standings and spirit is directly attributable to the big trade because of the defense and depth it brings. Boston no longer extends opponents' innings and gives away extra outs and runs, leading to a crisper brand of baseball and more intensity. It's almost like an NFL team with a great defense. They help the offense, because they've got more time and opportunities to do their thing; the defense takes care of the opponent quickly. The Red Sox even added Dave Roberts in the big deal, an addition not even Roberts is quite sure of. So far it is easier to measure what the Dodgers lost in Roberts than what Boston has gained. He does give the Red Sox another strong defensive outfielder, speed they're lacking and an exceptional bunter. If they make the playoffs, and Roberts makes the postseason roster, his value will be far greater. He's still in constant contact with good friend Paul Lo Duca, who Roberts says is finally emerging from the shock of the trade to the Marlins. What helped the most was Lo Duca being able to come back to Dodger Stadium for Florida, have a big series and get a loving sendoff from the fans. Roberts won't get that chance this year, unless it's in a World Series. He misses a lot of guys he considers family, especially mentor Maury Wills. He hasn't had direct contact with Wills since the trade because he knows how emotional Maury will get, and he's not sure he can handle that yet.

  • One more thing to consider in the Dodgers' trade, one in which almost no one thinks was a good for them. When Los Angles gave up Guillermo Mota and Lo Duca, they gave up a lot more than the numbers those players provide. Mota was an integral part of Eric Gagne's success and the bridge to get to him. Mota's absence has changed Gagne's role and the Dodgers' dependence on the Cy Young winner. A series of rough outings in that new role have seriously eroded Gagne's aura of invincibility. Add on to that, he loses another major aspect of his comfort zone by not having Lo Duca to catch him. L.A. may still win the NL West, but it will probably be because of the huge lead built when those players were still there and the fact that San Diego and San Francisco aren't good enough to catch them. There's still time.

    Foulke
    Foulke

  • When even a guy like the goggled Gagne starts displaying vulnerability, you get a glimpse of the mercurial fragility of a closer's psyche. Boston's Keith Foulke is in that club. Foulke doesn't possess the frightening fastball of Gagne, but his success rate has made him so desirable, he's played for the White Sox, A's, and now the Red Sox in successive seasons. When I asked him what was behind his second half dry spell, and recent return to form, he had no answer except to say his "tinkering." Remarkably, for a pitcher of his pedigree, Foulke is seldom comfortable with his mechanics and constantly tinkering. The way he explains it, Foulke can feel bad warming up in the bullpen and hope it isn't the same when he gets to the mound. Or, he can feel just right warming up, then have to guard against losing it in the game. He's been making these constant adjustments as long as he can remember with the most significant one this season -- holding his hands farther apart in the stretch. Boston will need Foulke to continue first-rate tinkering to hang in a heated American League playoff race.

  • It's looked at times lately like Derek Lowe is ready to re-emerge as Boston's next best starter, especially with a break in the weather. Lowe's chronic blister problem on his throwing thumb has been at its worst this season and gets aggravated by heat and humidity. Lowe and the training staff have received every conceivable solution to the skin irritation mailed in from all across Red Sox Nation, but even the truly medicinal ones won't prevent moisture from getting under the skin in a callus on the nub of his throwing thumb. If it's cool, like it has been much of an unseasonable August, it's not a factor. But a typical summer night in most major league cities creates conditions for disaster, and Lowe often can't make it past the fifth inning. In May, he failed to get past the sixth in each of his starts. For a month stretch in June and July, he only had one outing past the seventh inning. It's not only the skin, which eventually tears open, but also ineffectiveness that causes Lowe to come out early. He ends up having to alter how, and how often he throws his trademark sinker. When that starts happening, he's sunk.

    Compounding the issue is Lowe's high-strung emotional makeup, which heightens his reaction to everything and can sometimes create problems merely by thinking about them. That emotional roller coaster has been heightened by the fact Lowe's in the final year of his contract, with the pressure of not only the Sox's postseason chances, but also where he'll be playing next season, and for how much, weighing on his mind. Aside from all the spells and potions suggested by fans, and the genuine solutions attempted by the training staff, the best remedy for Derek's afflictions is something he's carried his whole career -- a generous helping of run support. He came into the season enjoying the greatest run support of any pitcher since World War II at half a dozen runs per game, and it's gone up! Lowe leads the majors with more than 6.5 runs per game while Jarrod Washburn and his 7.2 are on the disabled list for the Angels.

    Gary Miller is a reporter and play-by-play announcer for ESPN's major league baseball coverage.

    Gary Miller

    MLB commentator
    Gary Miller, who joined ESPN in 1990, serves as Major League Baseball commentator for ESPN DayGame and select game telecasts. He's also served as a host of Baseball Tonight and as an anchor for SportsCenter.
  • ALSO SEE