This Padre spring hasn’t been blue skies for everybody. Take reliever Greg Booker. He came into a game against the Angels Monday, was knocked around for four hits and the game-winning run in just two innings . . . and his spring earned-run average dropped .
“I need a line drive to be at somebody, anybody,” Booker said after pulling the Padres down to a 2-1 loss at Angels Stadium. “Maybe what I need is a line drive right at me.”
With a spring record of 0-2, an ERA of 9.69 and 23 hits allowed in 13 innings, Booker officially has lost his chance at beginning the season as anything more than a mop-up man. Brought into a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning, Booker was battered for two hits with a walk before escaping, and then blew up in the eighth.
His first pitch of the inning was hit into center field for a single by Jack Howell. A couple of pitches later, catcher Mike Knapp bunted Howell to second. Glenn Hoffman then looped a single to shallow center field to score Howell with the eventual winning run, dropping the Padres to 16-7-1.
Facing Booker in similar late-inning pressure situations last season--although those appearances were few and far between --opponents hit .471. It was the highest collective average against any National League pitcher with the game on the line.
But after finishing the year with two impressive starting performances (two runs in 11 1/3 innings), this spring was going to be different. Booker was going to compete with Mark Grant to fill the traded Lance McCullers’ role as right-handed setup man for Mark Davis.
Monday the competition ended. What bothers the Padres is, not so much that Grant won, but that Booker lost.
“This might not have been the case if he had a better spring, but right now, we won’t put him in those types of situations we had today,” pitching coach Pat Dobson said.
Booker said he doesn’t blame them.
“You pitch like a mop-up man, you deserve to be used as one,” he said quietly. “I guess I don’t feel bad about losing the setup role because I never had the role. I’ve never had any role.”
“He hasn’t been real sharp,” Manager Jack McKeon said, “but he’s been working on some stuff. When the season starts, he’ll get his chance, believe me. All I’m sure of is, Mark Davis is our closer. And whoever can get us to Mark Davis, whoever can get the hot hand, we’ll use him.”
Booker said yes, he was struggling with a new slider. But he said it was no excuse.
“It would be real cheap to say that,” he said. “That’s an out, and I won’t take an out. I’ve just had a bad spring when usually I’ve had a good spring. Who knows, maybe this means I’ll get off to a better start.”
With no more McCullers to fall back on, and with Grant having allowed 12 hits in 11 1/3 innings despite a 1.59 ERA, the Padres hope Booker is right. More of the Padres’ success than anyone can imagine might depend on it.
“When it comes down it, we’re planning on using a setup man by committee,” Dobson said. “This ain’t like last year. Except for Davis, we need everybody in all situations.”
Now there’s one guy who is ready for the season. Davis hasn’t allowed a run in his last 13 spring innings en route to an 0.56 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 16 innings.
After the 2-1 loss Monday, a game in which the Padres appeared at times to drag, Manager Jack McKeon joined a long line of esteemed baseball men by commenting, “Spring training is about a week too long. I think some of my players are suffering from boredom.” McKeon said that for younger teams, the 42-day period might be needed to weed out the prospects. But for his veteran team, he believes that closer to a month would be fine. “With a fairly set club like ours, you just don’t need as much time,” he said. So if everyone is always complaining about this, why doesn’t somebody do something? Take one look at the kind of crowds that have jammed the Arizona parks this spring (the Padres had eight sellouts in 12 Yuma games) and you’ll realize, shortening this season is not so easy, according to McKeon. “All these clubs have contracts with their spring parks that guarantee so many dates. Take us, we’re already set for next spring in Yuma. You can’t just back out of those dates so easily. Maybe the contracts could always be altered, but it takes time.” . . . Carmelo Martinez’s six home runs is one shy of the spring club record of seven by Kevin McReynolds in 1984. During that ensuing regular season, McReynolds tied Graig Nettles for the team lead with 20 homers. . . . The latest camp injury is probably the weirdest. Bullpen coach and batting practice pitcher Denny Sommers is suffering from a sore left elbow, no big deal, except he is right-handed. The best he can figure it is, he hurt the elbow last winter chipping ice off his driveway in Hortonville, Wis. “That’s what happens when you live in the Yukon,” Sommers said. . . . Thursday’s game in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium against San Diego State (7:05 p.m. start) won’t be the public’s only chance to see the Padres before Monday’s opening night. McKeon will hold a 90-minute workout Sunday at the stadium.