As Padres Shift to Home, Gwynn Tries to Shake Shift

Times Staff Writer

The Dodgers have devised “The Tony Gwynn Shift,” which has wrought “The Annual Tony Gwynn April Slump.”

Gwynn is so confused. Bob Welch was throwing for the Dodgers the other night, and when he went into his windup, Dodger infielders screamed: “Shift!”

They all moved to the batter’s right.

So Gwynn, a left-handed hitter who usually pulls the ball on inside pitches, expected it inside.


And Welch threw it outside.

“Do you believe that?” Gwynn said. “The Dodgers always play with your mind . . . I felt like Ted Williams . . . Man, nobody shifts me.”

Tony Gwynn’s batting average through four games: .176 (3 for 17).

He is glad to be leaving here.

The Padres open their home season at 7:20 tonight against Cincinnati.

“We’re goin’ home,” he said. “It’ll be a sellout the first night, and they’ll be all pumped up. Good.”

But until his average is up, Gwynn won’t get pumped up. Last April, he struggled with a 3-for-29 start, and now he’s at it again. On Thursday, he hopped an early ride to the ballpark for some extra hitting.

He was swinging at 2:30 p.m.

He said: “Wouldn’t you be out there early? One for 13? I’m not panicking, but I wanted to convince myself I still knew what I was doing. I wanted to go out and hit a couple of balls hard.

“Yeah, the Dodgers have the best pitching in baseball. Yeah, yeah. These are things I say to myself to convince myself there’s a reason for all this . . . I got fooled four straight times on breaking balls and changeups (against Welch). In spring training, I saw my share of fastballs, but these guys won’t throw me what I hit best. There are still 159 games left, so I think I can come back sooner or later.”

Terry Kennedy and Steve Garvey are hitting .231 and .200, respectively, but are they fretting?


Gwynn has this complex about hitting.

Still, Sports Illustrated was interested enough to feature his hitting techniques in a story this week.

“Yeah, great timing,” Gwynn said. “Last year, I was hitting a buck-25 (.125) when my batting tips book came out, and now this story comes out when I’m hitting .077.”

What’s going wrong? On opening day, against Fernando Valenzuela, he had a single and two line-drive outs. On the day after, against Orel Hershiser, he became testy.

With the bases loaded in a scoreless game, he grounded out to second and threw his helmet.

“I hardly ever slam my helmet, but I hit the ball so hard, and he (Dodger second baseman Steve Sax) didn’t even have to move. I wasn’t mad because I made the out or because the bases were loaded, but because I hit the ball so hard and couldn’t get a hit.”

The next day, against Welch, against “The Tony Gwynn Shift,” he hit four grounders to Sax.

“I didn’t hit one hard,” he said.

His wife, Alicia, drove back with him and said: “Quit trying to pull the ball. Quit playing pepper with the second baseman.”

Gwynn said later: “She’s my real hitting coach.”

Then, he said: “Maybe I’m making too much of this . . . I don’t know. I’m just glad we’re home.”