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Reds Jump on Padres Early, 5-0 : Mahler Allows 6 Hits for His First Shutout Since April of 1987

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

You could see it Sunday in a fat Ed Whitson fastball, in a contorted Carmelo Martinez swing, in a weak John Kruk grounder.

You could see it in eyes that stare at the sky, faces that scrunch up like wax paper, bats whose owners drive them into the ground.

Even if you’ve never stood up in front of thousands of people expecting three hours of perfection, you could see it.

The Padres say they are trying too hard.

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Evident during this season’s first extended home stand this week, this fact became resoundingly conclusive Sunday in a 5-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds in front of 36,774 paying folks at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

That’s right, more than 31,000 showed up for the third consecutive day, the kind of crowds some clubs are happy to get on opening day. Yet once again, what began with great cheers ended with boos. And pardon the Padres if they feel a shift from penthouse to outhouse, but twice during the game a ball boy was needed to race across right field and retrieve long strings of fan-tossed toilet paper.

The Padres said afterward that they are troubled not so much by fastballs or long balls but by just these kinds of expectations.

“We’ve had a lot of people here lately and everybody has been expecting a lot, and I think a lot of guys are trying to justify it,” said Manager Jack McKeon, whose team finished its home stand 3-4, including losing two of three to the likely contenders from Cincinnati. “Everybody who has started slow is trying to make it all up in two or three swings.”

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All of which is making them look decidedly mediocre.

Mediocre was being victimized by Rick Mahler’s first shutout since April of 1987. The pitcher allowed just six hits Sunday, and of his 27 outs, just seven were hit into the air.

Mediocre was pitcher Ed Whitson, the Padres’ best starter entering the game with a 2-0 record and 2.51 ERA, allowing five first-inning runs, three on back-to-back homers by Herm Winningham and Jeff Reed.

Before running out to buy their baseball cards, understand that the homers gave those two guys a combined 17 career homers in 1,781 at-bats. Winningham is the high man with 12.

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Whitson settled down after the first inning to throw a nifty two-hitter over the next seven innings. But with his offense attempting to hit five-run homers with most every at-bat, it didn’t matter. The game had essentially ended in, oh, about 15 minutes.

“I was beat before the first inning was over,” Whitson said.

And the Padres have fallen below .500 at 6-7 which, while it doesn’t bother any players just yet, has certainly made them think.

Said Tony Gwynn, who had his usual two hits Sunday: “I think there is something to that stuff about trying too hard. In the spring, so much was expected from us that now, everybody is trying to do too much. Just look at this home stand. The team that played in Houston last weekend (two wins in three games) was not the team I saw this week. Even games we won, we barely won.

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“I know it sounds funny, but right now, until we get over this, maybe we’re a better road team.”

They will certainly find out beginning tonight at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, where they begin a 13-game trip that also stops in Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Chicago. They will bring plenty of equipment and plenty of warm clothes and absolutely no memories of the last seven days.

Like the atrocious hitting. They batted .223 for the home stand with just 12 extra base hits in seven games. The heartbeat of the Padre order--Jack Clark, Carmelo Martinez and John Kruk--has been most irregular, combining to go 13 for 100 (.130) with just two homers and 12 RBIs.

Kruk, who has only batted 17 times but should get three straight starts in San Francisco because of right-handed pitching, has just one hit. He’s batting all of .059.

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Then look at the bullpen other than stopper Mark Davis and the injured Greg Harris. During this home stand, Dave Leiper, Mark Grant and Greg Booker have combined to allow seven runs in nine innings and have struck out just one batter during that time.

“You know, we have never been in this situation before, where things have been expected of us,” infielder Tim Flannery said after he had joined Gwynn in getting two hits off Mahler. “People have a tendency to get caught up in it, and people have to realize something. The team that wins this division is going to lose 60 games. At least that many games.

“The reason we should relax is the same reason we play 162 games.”

To help this relaxing process this week, look for both personnel and lineup changes, however minor.

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Harris’ sore left rib cage felt no better Sunday and that should be about that. Look for the Padres to probably place him on the 15-day disabled list. But instead of automatically replacing him with a pitcher, instead they could recall a position player from Las Vegas, considering they had ideas about carrying just nine pitchers this season anyway.

The top candidate for recall is left-handed hitting first baseman Rob Nelson, hitting .286 with three homers and five RBIs in nine games entering Sunday. He was the final man cut this spring and could give the team the needed power off the bench. McKeon, however, could also go with catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., who was hitting .270 with one homer and four RBIs in nine games.

If it is a pitcher, it will probably be left-hander Pat Clements, another late spring cut. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in nine innings, including throwing six scoreless innings in his first start Saturday night.

“We haven’t decided what we are going to do yet,” McKeon said late Sunday after meeting with his coaches.

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As for a lineup change, McKeon intimated that against the Giant right-handers, Martinez--batting .133--might be rested in favor of left-handed hitting Marvell Wynne, who had another hit Sunday to bump his average to .381.

“Marvell has really made you think,” McKeon said. “I’ll have to sleep on that one.”

And perhaps hope that when he wakes up, so will his team.

Padre Notes

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An interested visitor Sunday was Dave Winfield, the injured New York Yankee outfielder who was seeing his first live Padre game since leaving here to join the Yankees after the 1980 season. Winfield, recuperating from a herniated disk operation that could sideline him until after the All-Star break, watched from a third-deck luxury box with his father, who lives here. Winfield said it was weird visiting his old stadium. “There’s been big changes--personnel, front office, on the field, in the locker room,” he said. Would Winfield, 37, consider returning to the Padres for a last hurrah when his contract in New York expires after next season? “I haven’t really thought about it,” Winfield said. “But the operation gave me a new lease on life. I feel a lot better than I did a year ago.” The fact is, because of his age and health, the Padres probably wouldn’t chase him. Whatever, Winfield admits that for rehabilitation purposes, Southern California is a lot better place than New York. “It’s best to do my rehabilitation away from New York,” he said. “The pressure doesn’t help the healing process. People see me walking around and say, ‘Great, you can play.’ ”


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