Skip to main content
Original Issue

5 San Diego Padres Trades have beefed up the batting order, but the rotation remains weak

The new pitching machine, weighing 20 pounds and resembling a
large black video camera on a tripod, sits in batting cage 1 at
the Padres' spring training complex in Peoria, Ariz. It has been
dubbed by a few of the players as the
Ah-Crap-I-Can't-Hit-Lefties machine, but it will help determine
how much success San Diego will have in 2000.

The device, which can replicate a lefthander's curveball and
slider among other deliveries, belongs to lefthanded-hitting
first baseman Ryan Klesko, who has trouble hitting those two
pitches. In fact, he has a career .298 average against
righthanders but has hit only .208 against southpaws. Acquired
in a six-player trade with the Braves in December, Klesko bought
the machine in January and plans to bat against it throughout
the season, even taking it on the road. If the
hot-and-cold-running slugger can ever become consistently
productive, he could be a devastating force at the plate and
help turn the Padres, who won the pennant in 1998 but fell to
74-88 last year, into a contender again. If he doesn't, then San
Diego's season could be another big whiff.

Klesko welcomes the fresh start. "This is a totally different
atmosphere from Atlanta, and I mean that in a good way," says
Klesko, who isn't expected to sit against lefthanders as he
often did with the Braves. "There's not the pressure that there
is in Atlanta. I think we're going to surprise a lot of people."

One of the biggest pluses for the Padres may be team chemistry.
For example, the entire infield--Klesko, second baseman Bret
Boone (also acquired in the Braves deal), shortstop Chris Gomez
and third baseman Phil Nevin--grew up in Southern California and
played against each other in high school and college. They are
good friends and happy to be on the same side. Combine that sort
of attitude with the Padres' desire to play hard for manager
Bruce Bochy, and you've got the foundation for an overachieving

Here's why San Diego has to overachieve to be successful. The
starting rotation has only one member--lefthander Sterling
Hitchcock (60-56)--with a winning career record. No player in the
projected lineup hit more than 24 home runs last year, and the
only every-day players to bat higher than .277 were Klesko and
eight-time National League batting champion Tony Gwynn. Worse, in
1999, only the Marlins and the Twins scored fewer runs than the
Padres. That's why acquiring Klesko, who averaged 24 home runs
and 82 RBIs the past four seasons in Atlanta, was a priority. "We
have big expectations of Ryan," says Bochy. "We wanted him and
Boone [44 homers the last two years] in our lineup. We wanted
their power."

Another reason Klesko was so attractive to Bochy and San Diego
general manager Kevin Towers was the success he has had at
Qualcomm Stadium: a .323 average with six home runs and 19 RBIs
in 96 at bats. But to get him, Towers had to ship outfielder
Reggie Sanders and second baseman Quilvio Veras to the Braves.
The trade may have brought added power to the Padres, but it
also made them slower. (Sanders and Veras combined for 66 stolen
bases last year to 19 for Boone and Klesko.) The success of the
deal hinges on Klesko's ability to improve against southpaws,
against whom he went 5 for 49 last year. Throughout his career,
Klesko has been unable to see a lefthander's pitch nearly as
well as he can pick up a righthander's.

"While in Atlanta, he didn't see lefthanders every day, and I
can't emphasize enough how much that means," says San Diego
hitting coach Ben Oglivie. "I'm a lefthanded hitter myself, and I
know from experience you have to be deluged by lefthanded
pitching to be effective. The pitching machine will help him
identify pitches and, perhaps more importantly, help him

If Klesko emerges as the cleanup hitter, he'll bat behind the
39-year-old Gwynn, who's fully recovered from a strained left
calf that forced him to miss 51 games last year, and in front of
Nevin. The No. 1 pick in the 1992 draft, by the Astros, Nevin is
a late bloomer who batted cleanup last year and is coming off
his best season. To replace Veras in the leadoff spot, San Diego
acquired leftfielder Al Martin from the Pirates at the start of
spring training.

Anytime the Padres can take a lead into the ninth inning, closer
Trevor Hoffman, with 93 saves in 97 opportunities the past two
years, can almost guarantee them a victory. The difficulty for
San Diego, given its lack of quality starting pitching, will be
putting Hoffman in save situations. "Most people will pick us to
finish last in our division, and that's fine with us," says
Bochy. "I think we can play with anybody, because we have a good
nucleus of guys who know each other and will play hard for each

The Padres' new ballpark is scheduled to open in 2002, and
Towers is pointing to have his club rebuilt into a World Series
contender by that season. In the meantime, there's plenty of
work to be done. --L.A.

COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA Left out? Klesko should feel right at home in San Diego, but it's his comfort level against southpaws that concerns the Padres.


around the Horn

[2 stars]
[2 1/2 stars]
[2 stars]
[4 stars]
[4 stars]

by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics (NL rank)

Batting average .252 (16)
Runs scored 710 (15)
Home runs 153 (15)

1999 record: 74-88 (fourth in NL West)

Opponents' batting average .266 (8)
ERA 4.47 (8)
Fielding percentage .979 (11)

next up...

As a rookie last season catcher Ben Davis was razzed by his
fellow Padres about his clothes (he rarely wore a suit), his
appearance ("Cut like a weightlifter, looks like a movie actor,"
says closer Trevor Hoffman) and his good luck in getting to
shoot a TV commercial for Padres season tickets, in which he's
chased by dozens of bikini-clad women. But his teammates rarely
gave the 6'4", 215-pound Davis a hard time about his performance
behind the plate. He has one of the strongest and most accurate
arms in the league, and though he struggled offensively, manager
Bruce Bochy thinks Davis, 23, has the tools to be an All-Star
within three years. "Ben has everything you look for in a
catcher," says Bochy. "Soon he'll be known all around the league."

the lineup
projected roster with 1999 statistics

Manager: Bruce Bochy (sixth season with San Diego)


LF Al Martin[1] L 83 .277 24 63 20
CF Ruben Rivera R 210 .195 23 48 18
RF Tony Gwynn L 127 .338 10 62 7
1B Ryan Klesko[1] L 116 .297 21 80 5
3B Phil Nevin R 144 .269 24 85 1
2B Bret Boone[1] R 158 .252 20 63 14
C Ben Davis S-R 239 .244 5 30 2
SS Chris Gomez R 344 .252 1 15 1


IF Damian Jackson R 150 .224 9 39 34
OF Eric Owens R 217 .266 9 61 33
IF Ed Sprague[1] R 232 .267 22 81 3
C Carlos A. Hernandez* R 360 .262 9 52 2
IF John Roskos[1][3] (R) R 374 .320 24 90 2


LH Sterling Hitchcock 83 12 14 6.2 1.35 4.11
RH Woody Williams 144 12 12 6.3 1.37 4.41
RH Matt Clement 152 10 12 5.8 1.53 4.48
RH Brian Boehringer 160 6 5 5.6 1.40 3.24
RH Brian Meadows[1] 188 11 15 5.8 1.52 5.60


RH Trevor Hoffman 5 2 3 40 0.94 2.14
RH Donne Wall 154 7 4 0 1.15 3.07
RH Steve Montgomery[1] 232 1 5 3 1.31 3.34
LH Randy Myers*[3] 307 4 7 28 1.50 4.92
LH Matt Whisenant[3] 312 4 5 1 1.58 5.63
RH Will Cunnane 318 2 1 0 1.48 5.23

[1] New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164)
*1998 stats
[2]Triple A stats
[3]Combined AL and NL stats

the book
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Padres

"This team has a ton of question marks. I've got it down for 70
to 75 wins.... Al Martin will help in leftfield and Bret Boone
will help at second base, but I've never been a big fan of Ryan
Klesko. He can't play first base, and I don't think he wants to.
He belongs in leftfield, where he can't do as much damage....
Phil Nevin is shaky at third, and the shortstops, Chris Gomez
and Damian Jackson, are nothing special. It's a bad infield....
It's time for centerfielder Ruben Rivera to put up. He's a great
defender with an above-average arm, but I haven't seen him make
any adjustments at the plate. He can't even hit a decent
fastball.... Ben Davis has the size and tools, and I like his
actions behind the plate. I don't know why the Padres would even
consider trading him. Maybe they know something the rest of us
don't.... Sterling Hitchcock isn't a No. 1 starter, but he has
five different pitches and knows how to use them. Woody Williams
will battle every time out. After that, the staff is pretty
ordinary except for Trevor Hoffman, who's as good a closer as
there is."