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Padre Notebook : Salazar Is Contributing Right Off the Bat

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Tim Flannery and an old friend met for breakfast here Sunday morning. The Padre infielder and his buddy talked about the year they both played on a Padres’ World Series team. They talked about how they felt then, five summers ago, and how they’ve always wanted to feel that way again.

Flannery chided his buddy for being so excited that year that he would walk two miles from his home to San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium for games.

“I remember driving down the highway and seeing this figure on the side of the road and--zoom--as soon as I’d pass him I’d realize, I know that guy,” Flannery said. “I’d stop the car, turn around, drive back, open the door and shout, ‘Get in the car, Louie.’ ”

That’s Louie, as in Luis Salazar, who formally returned to the Padres from the Detroit Tigers Sunday as a utility man and perhaps future third baseman. Following breakfast with Flannery, Salazar drove to Angels Stadium and was immediately put into the starting lineup at third base. He set up one run with a runner-advancing fly ball, and then drove in another run with a single to help the Padres to a 6-5 comeback victory over the Angels.

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Salazar, who came to the Padres in exchange for shortstop Mike Brumley, committed an eighth-inning fielding error but he had not played third base in a while and afterward, he puttered around the clubhouse with a smile that seemed stuck.

“This is my team; these are my people,” said Salazar, 32, who is playing for the Padres and under Jack McKeon for the third time. “I followed this team every day after Jack took over as manager. What they did was amazing. I knew they had a chance to have this year like 1984. I wanted to be here. I am surprised but very happy.”

The Padres’ championship season was one of six different seasons Salazar has been part of the organization. He first arrived in 1980 from Pittsburgh as part of McKeon’s first trade as general manager. During his ensuing five years in San Diego, including two years when he was the opening-day third baseman (1982 and ’83) followed by the championship season, he had a composite .269 average with an average of seven homers and 40 RBIs each year.

He was traded to the Chicago White Sox in the winter of 1984. But after suffering a knee injury in 1985 that required reconstructive surgery and cost him the 1986 season, he returned to the Padres as a free agent in 1987. He hit .254 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 130 games thatyear, but Manager Larry Bowa didn’t feel it was enough, so Salazar was granted his free agency again in the winter of 1987.

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He was promptly picked up by Detroit, where, for the first half of last season, he was very likely the Tigers’ most valuable player. He hit .305 with 10 homers and 45 RBIs during that time, but then fell off and hit just .223 in the second half with two homers and 17 RBIs.

“I had played winter ball so many winters, I was finally tired, I wore myself out,” Salazar said of his midseason drop-off. “I did not play this winter. I rested. I am ready now.”

Salazar became expendable this spring with the Tigers’ acquisition of third baseman Chris Brown from the Padres. McKeon, remembering the good parts of Salazar’s unsteady career, and remembering how much he trusted him in the late innings at almost any position, decided it was time for a reunion.

“We needed a veteran off the bench and a guy who could do a lot of things--knock the ball down out there, make strong throws,” McKeon said. “He can help us in a lot of ways.”

Although he was one of only two American League players to start games at six different positions last season, his chief position could eventually be third base. Randy Ready, who has struggled there this spring, will still be the opening day third baseman and share it mainly with Flannery, but Salazar said he is ready for anything . . . particularly third base.

“I know that third base is the weakest part of this team,” Salazar said. “That is my favorite position, that is where I play the best.”

After playing third Sunday, Salazar will start at shortstop today and perhaps in the outfield Tuesday.

“We’re going to move him around the horn,” McKeon said. “Like during the season, we want to try him everywhere.”

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Salazar won’t complain. “Even if I don’t play, I won’t complain,” he said. “I’m just glad to be back home.”

Padre Notes

Spring games don’t always mean absolutely nothing. Take the Padres’ 6-5, ninth-inning victory over the Angels Sunday, the third time in the last four games the Padres have won in their final at-bat. This victory was important to Bip Roberts, one of three players (Gary Green and Rob Nelson are the others) still in contention for two remaining utility spots. Roberts, who entered the game as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning, put an 0-and-2 curveball from Vance Lovelace into center field for a two-run single in the ninth to give the Padres the victory. It was earlier speculated that Roberts and Green were heavy favorites to make the team, and this hit likely clinched a spot for Roberts. When asked if he was leaning toward putting Roberts on the team, Manager Jack McKeon said, “You could say that. It’s pretty accurate.” Said Roberts: “If I thought that it was a make-or-break at-bat, I wouldn’t have relaxed. There would have been too much tension in my body to get a hit. I just relaxed and saw the ball.” . . . The victory gives the Padres a 16-6-1 spring mark, tying the club record for spring wins with four games remaining against major league opponents. They have won 12 of their last 14 spring games, a stretch which began March 12 in Mesa, Ariz., against the Chicago Cubs when McKeon used all his regulars in a game for the first time. . . . Luis Salazar’s error Sunday was the 19th error in 23 spring games for the left side of the Padres’ infield.


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