Padres Know Who's on First : Unlike Last Year, 2nd, 3rd and Short Set, Too

Times Staff Writer

When spring training began last year, the status of the Padre infield was, at best, uncertain.

Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First . . . What's on Second . . . " routine probably wasn't a comedy hit at Padre camp.

First baseman Steve Garvey was coming back from a dislocated left thumb that forced him to miss the final two months of the previous season.

Alan Wiggins was attempting to make a transition from the outfield to second base.

Shortstop Garry Templeton's suspect left knee was bothering him.

Luis Salazar was not the offensive threat the Padres expected of their starting third baseman, and Graig Nettles still was in the Yankee camp at Fort Lauderdale.

Instead of Tinkers to Evers to Chance, the Padre infield at this time last year was more like ? to ? to ? .

Those question marks were not present as all 44 Padres expected in camp reported to their first full-squad workout Sunday morning in chilly Yuma.

"There's a lot more confident feeling in the infield coming into this year," Garvey said. "As last season progressed, the transition became smoother for all of us.

"It takes time. It took the Dodger infield two to three years to get to really know each other, and then we played together for eight years."

Since Garvey is 36 and Nettles is 40, it's safe to say the Padre infield will not be together for eight years.

However, for at least the next eight months, the Padres don't figure to worry much about their infield.

Last year's starters are healthy, and they have the advantage of playing together all last season. Also, Wiggins has a year of playing second base behind him.

With the addition of Jerry Royster, a free-agent utility infielder who played the last nine seasons with Atlanta, the Padres also have Nettles, a dependable right-handed hitter who can be platooned.

"Royster will play a lot of third base," Manager Dick Williams said. "Nettles only batted around .170 against left-handers last year."

Nettles, who was acquired by the Padres on March 30, 1984, hit .127 in 79 at-bats and had only one home run and 7 RBIs against left-handed pitchers last season.

When players are platooned, a manager often must deal with bruised egos. It doesn't appear that will be the case with Nettles and Royster.

"If we can win," Nettles said, "I'll be happy being platooned. At my age, it's foolish to try to play 160 games. Playing 130 to 150 is fine with me."

Said Royster: "I'm not battling Nettles for a position. They've told me I'll play third against most left-handers, and they also told me to have my other gloves ready."

Last season, Royster played third, second, shortstop and left field for the Braves. He hit .207 in 227 at-bats, and has a career batting average of .248. His best season was 1982, when he hit .295.

While Royster feels he has to use spring training to prove himself to Williams and the Padre coaches, the rest of the infielders want to use the time to become even more familiar with one another on the field.

"Last year it took a while for me to get adjusted to playing with Graig and Alan," Templeton said. "It wasn't really until after our losing streak in May (seven straight) that the infield starting playing more together.

"Now I know their basic movements. I know that Nettles can cut off that ball in the hole, and that allows me to play up the middle more."

Templeton not only hit .333 against the Cubs and .316 against the Tigers in the post season, but he made the big plays in the field, and became the team's inspirational leader.

His spirit and air of confidence appears to have carried over to training camp. Templeton recently signed a three-year extension to his contract, and he said his knee feels good.

"I feel more comfortable and more relaxed than I've felt since I came to the Padres," Templeton said. "I feel better about what is going on around me. We've got everybody together, and that will make us that much better."

That includes a second baseman who now thinks of himself as a second baseman.

"You never know what will happen, and it's good to be versatile," Wiggins said, "but it's safe to say that I think of myself as a second baseman.

"I know I'll play second base this year, and I feel more comfortable there. When I took those first ground balls today, it was real easy and real natural. I was just reacting. Last year, I thought everything through."

Wiggins feels comfortable knowing he can make the diving play on ground balls to his left, and knowing exactly where Nettles will throw the ball on a force play at second.

Templeton feels good knowing that Wiggins feels good. Nettles feels good knowing that he'll have a full spring with the Padres. And Garvey just plain feels good.

Maybe that's why the Padre infield is in good shape.

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