Steels Hits Game-Winner, Stakes Claim With Padres

Times Staff Writer

The Padres are beginning to mirror their manager. Outfielder James Steels hit a game-winning home run in the 11th inning of an exhibition against the Angels Friday, but he kept worrying about a bunt he had botched earlier.

“I popped up on a bunt, and you can’t really be happy about that,” Steels said. “It (the home run) was a good way to end it, but I’ve got to work on my bunting.”

Manager Larry Bowa has said he will issue $100 fines if players mess up bunts, miss signs or fail to execute anything else fundamental.


Bowa acknowledged that Steels fouled up the bunt. “And I told him that’s why I left him in there,” he said.

Steels’ home run was to deep right off Jack Lazorko. The Padres had trailed the Angels, 2-1, entering the bottom of the 11th, but rookie Randell Byers led off with a home run to right-center. With one out, catcher Mark Parent singled up the middle before Steels clinched the 4-2 victory.

Steels is 25, and this is his third big-league camp. He was hurt in September when the Padres didn’t call him up from Triple-A. They already had too many outfielders, but that didn’t make him feel any better.

“It hurt me to have to tell him they weren’t calling him up,” said Bowa, who was his Triple-A manager.

Suddenly, Steels is a front-runner to make the team as a utility outfielder. His specialty is right field, but Bowa has been using him in center this spring.

“It’ll surprise me if he didn’t make it (the 24-man roster),” Bowa said. “He can play. He can play all three outfield positions.”


The last outfield spot probably will come down to Steels or Marvell Wynne.

“I like playing center field,” said Steels, who batted .307, had 64 runs batted in and stole 35 bases at Las Vegas last season. “It’s easier than playing the corners because you can get a read on balls. I wouldn’t mind playing left or right, though. I’ll play anywhere to make the team.”

After Byers hit his home run Friday, Bowa congratulated him, and Byers said, “Thanks.”

“I told him, ‘It’s the first time you’ve ever said anything to me all spring,’ ” Bowa said.

Byers, 23, is a skinny 6-foot 2-inch outfielder from Bridgeton, N.J. Deacon Jones, the Padre batting coach, watched Byers’ first batting practice session this spring and proclaimed: “This kid is a hitter!”

But not a talker. The Padres asked a couple of sportswriters to drive him to Yuma from San Diego a couple of weeks ago, and Byers said one word the entire trip--”Thanks.”

“He’s quiet, but Randell Byers can hit, let me tell you,” Bowa said. “We’re always talking about (Stan) Jefferson and (Shawn) Abner, but this kid can play.”

The Kevin McReynolds trade didn’t help him. The Padres got Abner and Jefferson from the Mets, so Byers wasn’t the Padres’ only up-and-coming outfielder. He probably will play in Triple-A this year.

“When it (the trade) happened, I just told myself to play the best I can and try not to think about it,” Byers said.

Of the home run, he said, “It is a big deal, I guess, but it feels like a regular hit to me.”

Pitcher Andy Hawkins started Friday’s game, and didn’t yield a hit in three innings. Hawkins has altered his delivery a bit and says the change has been a big help so far.

He also is working on a new pitch--the split-fingered fastball. He threw about 15 split-fingered pitches Friday--”About half of them were decent,” he said--but is not sure if he will be ready to use the pitch when the regular season begins. But he’s counting on his cut fastball. It was his best pitch when he went 18-8 in 1985, but he said he “never had a clue” when he threw it last season.

Still, Hawkins went 10-8 last season and won a $535,000 arbitration case. After he won the case, he took the entire Padre front office out to lunch.

“That was to signify the end of a long, hard-fought battle,” Hawkins said. “It was nothing to be upset about--win, lose or draw.”

In the fifth inning, Bowa asked Tony Gwynn if he wanted to come out of the game.

“No,” Gwynn said. “One more at-bat.”

In the ninth, Bowa asked again.

“No,” Gwynn said.

Gwynn ended up playing all 11 innings, because--as usual--he thought he needed the work.

“I hadn’t hit squat all spring,” he said.

But he went 2 for 3 Friday with an RBI. Bowa told him afterward not to expect to play every inning against the Angels today.

“I want to play,” Gwynn said. “I hadn’t hit a ball hard--even in batting practice--before today. You know me, I like to panic a bit.

“This is the time for me when I can dwell (on hitting) and go out and do something about it by going to the batting cage or whatever. I’m a psycho when it comes to hitting.”

The Angels walked Gwynn intentionally in the 10th inning with a man on first and the winning run on third.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Gwynn said. “I mean, I was worried if I could even make contact, and he walked me.”

Padre Notes The Padres have signed all their players with less than three years’ experience. Third baseman Kevin Mitchell ($115,000) and pitcher Lance McCullers ($120,000) both signed Friday. . . . Center fielder Stan Jefferson (hand injury) swung off a batting tee and should be ready to play next week when the Padres are in Phoenix. . . . Manager Larry Bowa praised pitchers Lance McCullers and Craig Lefferts. McCullers gave up one hit in two innings and struck out three. Lefferts pitched two innings of no-hit ball and also struck out three. . . . Carmelo Martinez started in left field for the Padres, and on the first fly ball his way, some fans said, “Oh no!” But Martinez made the catch, and the crowd applauded loudly. . . . Mitchell, whose fielding is a question mark, had only one ground ball hit his way Friday, and he handled it cleanly. He also hit a single. . . . Only one Angel, Ruppert Jones, tried stealing on Padre catcher Benito Santiago and Santiago threw him out easily. . . . Fans at Desert Sun Stadium began chanting, “Sign Tim Raines. Sign Tim Raines.” Ballard Smith, the Padre president, was in attendance. . . . In a “B” game earlier, the Padres beat the Angels. 7-0.