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Padre Notebook : Kruk Says He Needs a Rest to Relight Fire

Times Staff Writer

On a Friday night, 164 days into the season, the Padres’ John Kruk looks at the lineup card and sees his name in right field. He looks over at left fielder Carmelo Martinez. He sighs.

“Hey Carmelo, let’s switch tonight, huh?” he asks. “Right field is too far to walk.”

He was just kidding, just kidding.

Sort of.

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For Kruk, it was night like most every other this summer. In the most troubled times of his eight-year pro career, he admitted Friday that what’s wrong with him is no different than what is sometimes wrong with businessmen, airline pilots and presidents.

He admitted he’s burned out.

He said he’s bored with the games. Unexcited with his hits. Not bothered by his outs. Sometimes, he says, he has been too disinterested to even watch.

“This year, my mind hasn’t always been on what I was supposed to be doing,” he said. “A lot of times during games when I was on the bench, I would go back up in the runway and not even watch. I would sit up there for an inning or two and just think.”

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About?

“Think about this winter,” Kruk said. “You know what I’m really looking forward to doing this winter? You may laugh, but I’ve got two trees in the backyard, and I’m going to split them up into logs.

“That’s all I’ve been thinking about lately, going home and splitting logs.”

About that West Virginia home: Kruk said he has been so disgusted that when he visited there during the All-Star break, he did not want to return.

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“I was in the backyard playing horseshoes, and I’m thinking, I don’t want to go back to the team,” he said. “I finally thought, this is my job, I have to go back.”

So he returned, and things have only gotten worse. In the midst of a 3-for-27 slump entering Saturday, with a .242 average and just 9 homers and 41 RBIs, Kruk said he has just recently recognized the low point.

“I’m making outs,” he said, “and I’m not even getting mad.”

Burnout. The symptoms are as visible on Kruk as the No. 8. He is unconcerned about his present, dispassionate about his future.

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“You know, I would be real surprised if I was still here next year,” Kruk said. “I know what they want, and I know that there are certain guys they will have to trade to get them. I am probably one of those guys.

“There are still some teams out there who would want me, and this team could probably get something for me. Hey, it’s a business. Whatever they have to do.”

Burnout. You rarely hear it with regard to baseball players, but rarely has a baseball player spent the past five years the way Kruk has.

For five consecutive winters, he has spent the off-season playing in Mexico. Each time, his season there has ended within a couple of weeks of the start of spring training.

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The constant work has never affected him before. He has hit more than .300 in each of his past four summers, including a .313 average last year with 20 homers and 91 RBIs.

Burnout. A victim is always the last to know. So it is with Kruk.

“The last couple of months,” Tony Gwynn said, “he has seemed completely lost out there. He’s forgetting what different pitchers throw. Sometimes he doesn’t have an idea in the outfield.

“All the tell-tale signs are there. He’s burned out. He needs to go home this winter and forget about everything, all of it.”

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Gwynn said it hasn’t just been recently. It has been all year.

“After a couple of weeks of this spring training, I noticed something different about him,” Gwynn said. “Usually, that early, it’s still not a drag, and you’re still glad to be around the fellas. But not Kruk. He looked tired. He looked like he didn’t like what he was doing.”

You couldn’t tell by the season’s first two weeks. In the April 12 home opener, his fifth-inning grand slam beat the Dodgers, 5-3. Four days later, in the season’s 10th game, his pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning beat San Francisco, 2-1. As that standing ovation rang in his ears, he was hitting .367 with 2 homers and 6 RBIs.

Seventy-eight games later, at the All-Star break, he had accumulated four more homers and 22 RBIs. Shortly thereafter, he was moved from first base to left field in a switch with Keith Moreland. A couple of weeks later, he was moved to right field so Carmelo Martinez could play every day in left.

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One of the Padres’ untouchables entering the season, Kruk suddenly didn’t have a position or niche or any sort of security he could put his hands on.

Thus a season has gone from good to bad to worse to thoughts about splitting logs. There have been injuries, to his left shoulder and right knee, but Kruk admits the pain has centered on a different spot.

“What’s really been messed up,” he said, “is my head. I’ve played too much, and it’s finally catching up to me.

“What I need is a rest. A good long rest. I’ll be OK next year, I’m sure of it. I just need a rest.”

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Kruk just wants the fans, those who have booed him steadily through most of the second half of the season, to know that it’s really not him.

“I love the game, and I’ve always played as hard as anyone,” Kruk said. “It’s just that sometimes something happens to you that you can’t do anything about. Next year. I’ll be ready next year.”

Good As Gold: The ballots went out last week to the league’s managers and coaches to vote for the best fielders at each position, with the winners to receive an award known as the Gold Glove. Although the Padre staff couldn’t vote for a Padre, at one position they will be the only ones not voting for a Padre. In this contest, catcher Benito Santiago is as good as gold.

Said Santiago: “I would think I deserve it, but . . .

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Here’s how he deserves it: He has thrown out an impressive 43% of attempted base stealers this year (32 of 74), including 9 of 15 from his knees. He has just 12 errors and five passed balls after having 22 of each last year.

“I don’t know, it seems I always have to wait for everything,” Santiago said. “We’ll just have to see.”

If he wins, he will become the first Padre catcher to do so, and the fourth Padre Gold Glover overall. Former Padres Dave Winfield (outfield) and Ozzie Smith (shortstop) and current outfielder Tony Gwynn have won the award.


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