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May 27, 2001
The Daily Prospectus
First off, I need to apologize to Brewer fans, to the state of Wisconsin, to anyone who has ever eaten cheese or watched more than two episodes of "Laverne & Shirley."
Thursday, I mentioned that San Diego was the only place where I'd witnessed tailgating at a baseball game. When the article was posted, Chris Kahrl e-mailed me to warn me that I might hear from Brewer fans, who are apparently avid tailgaters and pretty proud of it.
Well, Chris was right, so to all you Brewer fans, sorry for the slight. I've never been to Milwaukee, missing my one chance during a road trip to Chicago back in 1993. On the off chance I make it up there this summer, I look forward to the smell of roasting pork and the sound of Wiffle ball games as I wind my way from parking lot to gate. Feel free to offer me food.
On to Thursday's road trip, starting with a shameless plug for the John Holmes dog I bought just before the first pitch. At Jack Murphy, they're available from the Randy Jones barbecue stand in the plaza. They're tasty, and they take about four innings to consume. The best ballpark hot dog I've ever had, bar none (Milwaukee fans, stop typing and see the third paragraph above).
Anyway, I happened to catch the least-impressive pitching matchup of the series on paper, with rookie Wascar Serrano taking on the D'backs' Miguel Batista. While the final score was a mere 3-1, neither pitcher was impressive. Serrano showed a good fastball and slider, but inadequate command, pitching from behind much of the day. Batista wasn't much better, throwing just 55 of 92 pitches for strikes in his 4 2/3 innings.
That last bit is important. I was very impressed by the Padres' approach at the plate, as they worked the count, particularly the top of their lineup. My scorecard was left behind at a Bennigan's after the game, so I don't have my in-game notes, but I can tell you that Ryan Klesko saw more than 20 pitches in his four plate appearances, walking three times. Rickey Henderson was himself, with a walk and a single off of Batista.
The whole team looks like they've bought into the type of hitting style that teams like the Indians, Yankees, and A's have used in the past few years. As Chris Kahrl has pointed out, that style not only leads to hitters' counts and walks, but to early exits by starting pitchers and opportunities to hit off lousy middle relief.
Which is exactly what happened Thursday, with some help from Bob Brenly. With two outs in the fifth and the go-ahead run on second base, Brenly got antsy and pulled Batista. The right-hander had thrown 92 pitches, which no doubt factored into the decision. And while reliever Troy Brohawn got out of the inning by retiring Mark Kotsay, he and Geraldo Guzman combined to give up two decisive runs in the sixth.
If Batista's pitch count is in the seventies (as Serrano's was), perhaps Brenly leaves him in, and the game progresses differently. The Padres plate discipline helped them see back-end pitchers, and helped them win an important game.
Contrast Brenly's overmanaging with the work by Bruce Bochy an inning later. With the bases loaded and one out, Bochy had Jimmy Osting up in the bullpen. Serrano was able to strike out Reggie Sanders, bringing up Steve Finley. It was essentially the same decision Brenly had faced: leave in the starter or go to the pen and get the platoon advantage. Bochy stayed with Serrano and watched as the rookie struck out Finley with his best slider of the day.
The Padres won this game, but the team has a significant problem or two, most notably the shortstop situation. After the game, Dave Pease and I had dinner with Craig Elsten of San Diego's KOGO, host of the Friars' pre- and post-game shows. The topic consumed much of the meal. The Pads are currently using an offense/defense platoon of Chris Gomez and Rule 5 pick Donaldo Mendez. Neither player can hit, and while Mendez is the superior fielder, he's coming off a rough stretch with the glove.
Elsten made the point that the Padres, even with their current success, aren't going to send Mendez back to the Astros. They're that high on his potential. He and Pease both agree, though, that Mendez's 409 OPS is no fluke: he can't hit at the major-league level yet, and a role as a defensive replacement is the best he can do.
The problem is that using Chris Gomez as the offensive part of a platoon is laughable. He's hitting .206/.268/.222, following seasons with OPSs of 528 and 639. Nevertheless, he's the starter for the time being.
The return of Santiago Perez would help, if the Padres wanted to use him. When he was healthy, the team was playing him both at shortstop and in the outfield, and he would be the best-hitting option at shortstop. If Mendez is going to be around for glovework anyway, why not bite the bullet on Gomez's contract and play the player who will at least walk a little? Perez is at .217/.347/.233, and could be Jose Valentin Lite; faint praise, but a damn sight better than Chris Gomez.
What came out of the discussion, though, was an appreciation for the need to know what a team is thinking. We rail at certain decisions and make recommendations--mine, in this case, being that the Pads need to give up Mendez--but it's important to recognize that if a team is adamant on a certain point, any solutions have to take that into consideration. The Pads are going to keep Mendez, so solving their shortstop problem has to accept that and make it part of the solution.
Of course, the team is also carrying another Rule 5 player in Jose Nunez; unlike Mendez, Nunez isn't going to make even a minor contribution to this team. Bochy can't expected to stay in the NL West race with a 23-man roster, so Kevin Towers is going to have to bite the bullet on at least one of these guys very soon. It's nice to use the Rule 5 draft to pick up talent, but once you realize you're a contender, you have to assemble a roster that will win.
OK...DP isn't supposed to be "Joe and Craig on the Padres," so we'll get back to the rest of the game on Monday.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.