The word from Manager Jack McKeon was this was Shawn Abner’s chance to prove he belonged with the Padres.
No longer were the Padres content to consider Abner an outfielder of the future. It was time the future became not so far away.
When McKeon recalled Abner from the minor leagues last week, he gave him his best shot. Monday night, Abner shot back.
His three-run homer off Cy Young Award winner Oral Hershiser powered the Padres to a 5-1 victory over the Dodgers in front of 25,952 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
The homer was all the offense the Padres needed on a night when Eric Show pitched his first complete game and struck out a season-high eight.
The complete game was Show’s first since Sept. 27 when he beat the Dodgers, 8-4.
The homer was Abner’s first since he was recalled from triple-A Las Vegas June 14. His most recent homer had come May 16, 1988, against 1985 Cy Young winner Dwight Gooden.
One thing about Abner, he does it against the best.
“We’ll just bring him up when they get the good pitchers out there,” McKeon quipped.
Abner was added to the roster when utility player Tim Flannery went on the 15-day disabled list with a torn right forearm muscle. At the time, McKeon said this was the opportunity to see if Abner could play in the majors. He promised to give him every chance to prove that he belonged.
McKeon has lived up to that pledge, starting Abner in either left or center field for the past five games and batting him leadoff. An injury to Chris James (bruised leg) has helped open that opportunity.
“He can’t say he is in and out of the lineup,” McKeon said. “Here is an opportunity. If you want it, take it.”
But one home run cannot wipe out Abner’s struggles. The homer is only his fourth hit in 21 at-bats since his recall. He is batting .190 and had struck out and grounded into a double play in his first two at-bats against Hershiser.
“I hope the kid does well,” McKeon said. “But how long does one home run go?”
Abner was batting .269 at Las Vegas with eight home runs and 31 RBIs. But his 60 hits barely outstripped his 53 strikeouts. He had started slowly at Las Vegas, upset at being cut by the Padres late in spring training and kept out for 10 days with a hamstring pull.
“I was pretty upset to be sent down because the way things were going in spring training, I thought I was going to make the team,” Abner said. “My first 100 at-bats at Las Vegas, I didn’t do anything. They were wasted at-bats.”
Since he came to the Padres in the December 1986 deal that sent Kevin McReynolds to the Mets, Abner had been considered one of the Padres’ best prospects. He was the first player taken in the 1984 amateur free-agent draft.
But his path to the majors has been spotty. This is his third stint with the Padres. He was recalled near the end of the 1987 season and started last season with the Padres. He batted .181 in 37 games and was hitless in the past 17 at-bats when he was sent down to Las Vegas last May 28.
Although McKeon said he is not turning this into a make-or-break chance, Abner said he realizes he will only get so many opportunities to show he belongs.
“I’m just happy to get the playing time, that is all I can ask for,” Abner said. “Hopefully, they won’t have to do it again. He has given me a good shot, I shouldn’t mess this one up. If I mess up this time, it is not because the Padres didn’t give me a chance.”
Abner’s homer was all the support Show needed. He allowed a home run to Mike Davis in the sixth but only in the fifth did Show have to pitch out of a serious jam.
He walked John Shelby and Alfredo Griffin with one out. After Hershiser bunted them to second and third, Kirk Gibson was walked intentionally, bringing up Willie Randolph.
Show started Randolph with three balls but after a called first strike, Show got Randolph to line out to Abner in left.
Hershiser was strong through four innings, allowing two hits and walking none.
He also ended Tony Gwynn’s club-record streak of reaching base at nine consecutive (seven hits, two walks) when he got Gwynn to ground to second in his first at-bat.
Hershiser’s troubles began when Randolph bobbled Luis Salazar’s fifth-inning grounder to second for an error, allowing Salazar to reach first.
Show followed with a single up the middle before Abner connected on a one-strike pitch.
“I was just trying to hit a line drive,” Abner said. “He left a curveball out over the plate that I could hit.”
The Dodgers got one run back in the sixth on Davis’ homer 15 rows into the right-field bleachers. That cut the lead to 3-1, but the Padres were not through.
The damage continued in the sixth, starting, as it often does, with a leadoff single by Gwynn. The hit was the second in four at-bats for Gwynn, who raised his National League-leading average to .358.
Jack Clark took Hershiser’s next pitch into the first row of stands in left field for his ninth home run and a 5-1 lead.
Hershiser was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the next inning and replaced by Alejandro Pena.
After a series of games in which the Padres have failed to drive home runners in scoring position, Manager Jack McKeon juggled his lineup. He moved shortstop Garry Templeton into the sixth position, the first time Templeton has batted anywhere other than eighth. Templeton is hitting as well he has in some time. He entered the game batting .246 and was 14 for his past 41 (.341). “I might as well give Templeton a shot,” said McKeon. “He is hitting well. Let’s put him there and see what he can do.”
Taking over Templeton’s No. 8 spot was third baseman Luis Salazar. On a team that is having trouble scoring runs, Salazar is one of the worst offenders. He entered the game batting .135 (five of 37) with runners in scoring position and had driven in only one runner in such situations. Salazar is hitting .241 overall with four home runs and seven RBIs. . . . Outfielder/infielder Chris James took batting practice for the first time since he bruised his right leg Wednesday when he slid against the left-field stands while trying to catch a foul ball. James cannot run well yet but is available to pinch-hit, McKeon said. “We’ll only use him if we really need to,” McKeon said. “He’s not ready to go full speed.”
The Padres announced the signing of eight more players from the amateur free-agent draft held June 5-7, brining to 31 the total signed. Included in the lastest group is Ray McDavid, an outfielder from Clairmont High School. . . . When switch-hitter Bip Roberts was last with the Padres full time in 1986, he batted better from the left side (.311) than he did from his natural right (.207). He hit .253 overall. But this year back with the team full time again, Roberts is back to hitting better from the right (.371) than the left (.175). His overall average entering the game was .267. Roberts, who said he has been a switch-hitter since his junior year in high school, said his poor performance as a left-handed batter can be traced to a flaw in his technique that recently was pointed out to him. “I’ve had my left elbow too high,” Roberts said. “I’ve been working on it in batting practice and off the tee to get it right.” But practice is about the only opportunity Roberts has had. He has not started since Wednesday because McKeon has played Shawn Abner full time since his recall from triple-A Las Vegas.