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Padre Notebook : Santiago, Davis Clearly April’s Best : Catcher, Reliever Dominating as Season’s First Month Ends

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Times Staff Writer

Although the average ear is not allowed in such places, one could make a good guess as to what soft-spoken Mark Davis and Benito Santiago say to each other these days when they meet on the mound.

Santiago: “Awesome.”

Davis: “You, too.”

After one month of the season, it seems that whomever Davis hasn’t struck out, Santiago has thrown out. Add Santiago’s hits in 15 of 18 games and Davis’ 18 consecutive scoreless innings, and you have ample reasons for one man’s vote for the April player and pitcher of the month.

The three-year-old local Padre award, voted on by writers and broadcasters, is quite popular among the players. One of the reasons, no doubt, is that winners are given a Seiko watch. But another is that the voting is sometimes close and controversial and makes for good clubhouse rap.

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Tony Gwynn hit .402 last August and still lost to Santiago. Davis went 3-0 with a 2.53 ERA last August and still lost to Eric Nolte, who will win this month’s award only if they fly it down to triple-A Las Vegas.

One of the best things about this season’s first month is that for once, there is no contest.

Santiago not only is the player of the month, he already has taken big steps toward his first All-Star game and Gold Glove.

“The All-Star game I would like, and I think people would know me to vote for me because of my streak at the end of last season,” Santiago said of his record-breaking 34-game hitting streak. “But what I would really like is the Gold Glove. That’s for the best defense, and I want to play good defense. I want that award.”

If New York’s Gary Carter continues his rebirth (.328, seven homers), Santiago has little chance of being voted into the All-Star game over a media star from such a populous area. But if it were between him and anyone else, he would have a chance. Particularly since right now, he is the best catcher not only in the National League, but in baseball.

He has committed just one error, and he has thrown out 13 of 21 runners attempting to steal, a 62% success rate in an area where 35% is considered good. This includes twice throwing out St. Louis’ base-stealing champion, Vince Coleman, once while Santiago was on his knees.

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“I had to throw him out from my knees,” Santiago said, shrugging. “I didn’t have time to get up.”

At the plate, he recently went hitless for two consecutive games for the first time since July 28-29 of last season. He has hit in 50 of 55 games (68 for 208, .327) since Aug. 25, with only the Dodgers, St. Louis and Pittsburgh holding him hitless in games during that time.

“I don’t want to say he’s the best in baseball right now and put that pressure on him,” Manager Larry Bowa said, smiling. “Let’s just say he has the best tools in this game. Period.”

“Last year gave me confidence,’ Santiago said earlier this week. “I knew this year I could pick right up. I knew what to expect. I feel I can only get better.”

For Davis, the shoo-in for pitcher of the month, that could be impossible. Using a new delivery learned with great difficulty this spring--he allowed 26 hits in 18 innings--the reliever is on a streak of 18 consecutive scoreless innings, with 28 strikeouts and only eight hits allowed during that time.

Those are statistics that figuratively and literally blow away everyone but Davis.

“I didn’t know I had that many strikeouts,” he said. “I don’t look at that. I don’t look at hits. I don’t look at runs. I look at how I feel. If I feel good, then I know chances are I’m doing good, or at least doing my best.”

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Well, sometimes he looks.

“The hardest thing about this is that people are starting to put my stats on the scoreboard,” he said. “I’ll be walking into a game and glance up and go, ‘Oh, that’s me.’ I don’t like that.”

The recently released movie “Colors,” about gang warfare in Los Angeles, is of particular interest to one Padre.

For 13 years, third baseman Chris Brown’s older brother Timmy was the leader of the Crips, one of the gangs depicted in the film.

Brown, whose brother is now a construction worker in Mississippi, hasn’t talked to Timmy about the film. Brown has not yet seen it.

“The film opened when we were in Los Angeles, and let me tell you, no way was I going to see it there,” Brown said. “Too dangerous.”

Brown, who grew up in the middle of the Los Angeles gang violence but was prevented from joining a gang by his brother, said he doesn’t expect to be shocked by the movie.

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“I know what’s going to be in there regardless of whether I see it or not,” Brown said. “Remember, I lived it.”

Late this week, Brown began making a little ruckus of his own. After being benched for six games, he was inserted into the lineup Thursday and in two games went 4 for 6 with two runs batted in, raising an average that was once .167 to .243. More important to the Padres, he had two of those hits and both RBIs while in some sort of pain.

In the fifth inning of Friday night’s 6-3 victory over Houston, he pulled a muscle in his side while making a splendid bare-handed catch and throw-out on a short chopper by Al Pedrique. In the bottom of the inning he had a two-out, two-run single, and he singled again in the seventh, clutching his side both times after stopping at first base.

This mini-resurgence follows Brown’s attendance at four consecutive early batting practices (3:45-4:30 p.m.) this week. He missed four of the voluntary sessions in a row the previous week.

“Give him credit. Right now he’s working hard, real hard,” Bowa said.

It-Was-Bound-to-Happen-Sooner-or-Later Dept: During an early batting practice this week, Roberto Alomar was running around the field in undistinguished-looking tennis shoes.

“Hey Sandy,” batting coach Amos Otis yelled to third base coach Sandy Alomar, who was hitting the kid grounders, “tell him to run in and put on some cleats.”

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“You don’t like it, you tell him,” Alomar said, shrugging.

“Hey, man,” Otis said, “He’s your son.”

Later, during that same pregame session, Bowa pointed to the back of the Alomar kid’s pants.

“You ever seen anything like that before?” Bowa asked.

“Seen what?” asked an observer.

“Those are grass stains on those pants,” said Bowa, shaking his head at someone who would hustle before a game.

It should be no wonder that after 20 games, the Padres were 5-2 against left-handed pitchers and just 4-9 against right-handers. After all, entering this season, they had the two active National League players with the best career averages against left-handers.

You might have guessed that Keith Moreland was one of them, and he is, No. 2 at .314.

But who would think that a certain left-handed hitter would be No. 1? Tony Gwynn never ceases to amaze or to go against conventional wisdom. He entered the year with a .318 average against left-handers, and he actually believes he began breaking out of his slump this week because the Padres faced three left-handed starters in a four-game stretch.

“For me to even have a chance against lefties, that means I have to concentrate more and keep my head in more and do what I have not been doing,” Gwynn said. “This forces me to get my swing right.”

After getting four hits in his first 25 at-bats this season, Gwynn collected 11 in his next 25 and is hitting .299. But he’s still not happy.

“I don’t care if I get four hits a game (which he did Thursday afternoon against St. Louis),” Gwynn said. “I know how I feel, and I still don’t feel good.”

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When Padre pitcher Ed Whitson was hit on the ankle by a Vince Coleman line drive this week, it marked the second time this season that he was forced out of a game because he was hit by a batted ball. Remember, he was knocked out on opening day in Houston by Terry Puhl’s line drive off his hand.

In both games, Whitson had given up few enough runs to get victories, had he stayed in and straightened up. The Padres lost both.

“Don’t I know it,” Whitson said with a sigh.

At the current rate, Whitson may become baseball’s first pitcher to get hit by batters (2) more than he hits them (no hit batters in 27 innings, only three all of last season). The problem, said Whitson, is all in the fastball.

“When I throw a fastball, I come off the mound kind of off-balance, kind of funny,” he said. “I’m not in the right position to get out of the way. Both guys hit me on fastballs, so I got to figure that’s what it is.”

Appreciative player of the week: For those of you in center field who have been cheering Marvell Wynne during his recent eight-game tear, he hears you.

Entering Saturday night’s game, Wynne, a former last-minute defensive replacement, had hit .304 in eight games with two doubles, a triple, two homers and seven RBIs. With half as many at-bats as the regulars, he still led the team in extra-base hits (5) and was tied for second in homers (2) and RBIs (7).

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“It is the first time here that people have stood up and cheered me, and I’ve noticed,” Wynne said. “They are calling my name, cheering for me. You can’t help but hear that. It’s new for me, but I like it. When the fans are on your side, it makes you look forward to coming to the ballpark.”

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