Players stared blankly into their lockers. Their eyes revealed pain and anguish. Words were mumbled, not spoken.
“These are the times I can’t stand,” said Padre pitcher Larry Andersen, 38. “You know there’s nothing you can say. You can’t comfort them.
“I’ve been there. I’ve been sent down. I’ve been cut. I’ve been waived. I’ve been released. It’s an awful feeling, and there’s not a guy in this clubhouse who doesn’t know what it feels like.”
The Padres released veteran pitcher Calvin Schiraldi amid their second wave of cuts Saturday morning, leaving 34 players in camp vying for 25 positions.
The Padres also sent pitchers Derek Lilliquist, Jeremy Hernandez and Jose Melendez to triple-A Las Vegas, and sent non-roster catcher Dann Billardello and non-roster pitcher Pat Clements to their minor-league camp for reassignment.
In another move made before the Padres’ 3-1 defeat to the Oakland Athletics, the Padres signed pitcher Mike Maddux to a major league contract and brought him into camp. He’ll compete with Eric Nolte for the fifth spot in the rotation.
“I’ve got the opportunity to open some eyes,” Maddux said, “and that’s all I can ask for. Now, hopefully I can capitalize on it.”
Certainly, the Padres gave Schiraldi every opportunity. They had every intention of making their No. 5 starter. He appeared in four games, including ‘B” games, and was 1-1 with a 7.14 ERA.
“It’s not a big surprise,” Schiraldi said. “I kind of had an idea. Really, I don’t have any excuses. It’s one of those things where you have to make the best of your situation, and I didn’t do that here.”
Schiraldi will be placed on the waiver wire, allowing teams three days to claim him, and pick up his $740,000 salary. The Padres are obligated to pay him about $185,000. Because of Schiraldi’s salary, no one is expected to claim him, allowing him to be a free agent beginning Thursday.
“We tried to trade him,” said Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager, “but there just was not much interest. I thought we had something with Texas, but nothing. We played every card we had.”
The other five players who departed Saturday will remain in the Padre minor-league system, with Hernandez being the hottest commodity among the group. Hernandez, who allowed only four hits without a run in five innings, will join the Las Vegas team simply for experience. He never has pitched in triple-A, and if successful, the Padres privately predict he’ll be in the big leagues in late May or June.
“I’ll be back,” Hernandez said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
The Padres, who must ask waivers on all players by noon Tuesday or be obligated to pay their full salary, decided to make their cuts three days early since they leave after today’s game for Palm Springs.
“I decided today would be the day of demarcation,” McIlvaine said. “Because of logistics, we had to do something by Sunday. And I really didn’t want to do it then. I didn’t want it to be like, ‘Happy Easter, now we’re cutting you.’
“Really, it’s a rather unpleasant day no matter when you do it.”
Said Padre Manager Greg Riddoch: “I’ve been in a bad mood for four days anticipating this. These are human beings you’re dealing with. You can’t treat them like they’re a social security number.”
The moves, barring any last-minute acquisitions, leaves the Padres roster shaping up as follows, according to insiders:
Starters: Ed Whitson, Bruce Hurst, Andy Benes, Greg Harris and Eric Nolte or Mike Maddux.
Relievers: Craig Lefferts, Larry Andersen, Wes Gardner, Rich Rodriguez, and John Costello or Maddux.
Catchers: Benito Santiago, Tom Lampkin and possibly Brian Dorsett.
Infielders: Fred McGriff, Bip Roberts, Tony Fernandez, Jim Presley, Paul Faries, and either Marty Barrett, Joey Cora or Garry Templeton.
Outfielders: Tony Gwynn, Shawn Abner, Jerald Clark, Greg Gross, Darrin Jackson, Thomas Howard and possibly Jim Vatcher.
The Padres, according to a club official, already have decided that pitchers Dennis Rasmussen and Atlee Hammaker, and first baseman Phil Stephenson will be placed on the disabled list next week. Rasmussen and Hammaker each will have a shot at the fifth starter’s job when they return in April.
Reliever Pat Clements braced himself for this day. He knew that each day could be his last. When he walked into the Padre clubhouse, and Riddoch called him into his office, he knew exactly what it meant.
“I came into camp as a longshot at best,” said Clements, a left-handed reliever. “Really, I thought I was coming in with no chance to make the team. To tell you the truth, I felt lucky I just got invited.”
After opening the season with the Padres last season, Clements, 29, was optioned June 9 to triple-A Las Vegas, where he was 4-3 with a 6.05 ERA in Las Vegas, yielding 106 hits in 86 1/3 innings.
“The way I pitched,” Clements said, “I wasn’t surprised the Padres didn’t want me back. Heck, no one wanted me, and I couldn’t blame them.”
Clements spent the winter in Chico, Calif., wondering if he should start looking for other employment.
“I wasn’t ready to give up this game,” Clements said, “I wanted to give this game one more shot. I wanted to prove to myself that I either could do it, or couldn’t.”
So Clements, eyeing a vacant dirt lot across the street, had a wild idea. He decided to build a pitching mound. He hauled dirt in a wheelbarrow, packed dirt into an area of his back yard, constructed a regulation-size pitching mound, and threw into a net every day.
Although Clements did not make the team, his ingenuity still appears to have paid off. He was 2-0 this spring with a 2.25 ERA, allowing only eight hits and striking out 10 in 12 innings.
“I know I didn’t make it,” Clements said, “but I feel good about myself. I opened some people’s eyes.”
Said McIlvaine: “I wouldn’t hesitate bringing him up after what I’ve seen. It was just a numbers game, that’s all. The guy’s got a lot of guts. I know he impressed me.”
Andersen, after ripping Jose Canseco on a radio show recently, faced the slugger in Saturday’s game and induced a pop-up to right field.
“I’m tired of Canseco worrying about everybody else,” Andersen said. “Not just him, but everybody talking about their contact. Too many players are worrying about what everyone else is making.
“I don’t think anyone questions his ability, or what he’s done, but I don’t think he should be concerned if they’re paying someone more than him.”
Andersen, on the rash of released players that appear to be predicated on their contract: “It might very well be that some teams are looking at owner-mandated salary caps. The guys who get hurt are the guys in the middle. It’s like, ‘OK, we’re not going to sign him, or trade for him, we’ll just wait until he gets released.’
“If teams do it collectively, it’s wrong. It’s their prerogative. But people also have the right not to go to games whose teams are not dedicated to winning.”
Derek Lilliquist (1-2, 6.00 ERA), after being sent down to Las Vegas: “What can I do, but give them hell and come back later. I need to work on my consistency with my delivery. I just wish they could have given me more innings, that’s all.” . . . Padre first baseman Fred McGriff, who has not homered in 44 at-bats this spring, said Saturday that his right elbow still is quite sore, which could cause him to miss a few games. McGriff, who was hit in the elbow Friday night on a pitch thrown by Curt Young of the Athletics, said: “It’s been that kind of spring.” . . . Athletic Manager Tony LaRussa appears to have had an unfair advantage Saturday. Making out the lineup card, and sitting next to him on the bench was Indiana Coach Bob Knight. . . . Padre right fielder Tony Gwynn extended his hitting streak to seven games, going three for four with an RBI. He now is batting .411 this spring. But the highlight of his day, you ask? No question, Gwynn said, meeting Knight. . . . Yes, that was Padre chairman Tom Werner who caught a foul ball Saturday off the bat of Greg Gross. . . . The Padres will conclude their stay in Yuma today with a 12:05 p.m. (PST) game against the Cleveland Indians. Bruce Hurst is the Padres’ scheduled starter. . . . The Padres set a Yuma spring-training record Saturday by drawing 7,425 fans.