PADRES : Nolte Exhibits Case of Jitters Despite Improved Mechanics
Padre pitcher Eric Nolte keeps trying to tell himself this is only a spring-training game. The stats are meaningless. The crowds are small.
He keeps trying to convince himself of the relative insignificance, but no matter what he says, no matter what his teammates tell him, he knows that today’s start against the Angels is not simply another game.
As crazy as it might sound, as unfair as it might be, this could be the biggest game of his career.
“I know that if I do well, I’ve got a great chance to be the Padres’ fifth starter,” he said Tuesday, almost whispering. “If I do poorly, I’m back in (Las) Vegas.
“It’s that simple.”
For a man who has spent the past three years trying to get back into the big leagues, never making more than $45,000 in a season and fearing only a few months ago the Padres would release him, it’s asking the impossible for him to stay calm.
“I’m going to go out there and keep it simple,” Nolte, 26, said. “It’s not going to be like the past, where I’m thinking what will go wrong. I’ll be thinking only of the positive.
“I know I can’t worry about it. I really can’t. If I do, I’m only asking for trouble.”
It was Nolte’s anxiety that some say caused his ulcers, which sidelined him for two months in the spring of 1989. In many respects, he never recovered.
After making the jump from double-A to the Padres in 1987, when he was 2-6 with a 3.21 ERA in 12 starts, Nolte has made only one other big-league start in his career.
He instead has languished in Las Vegas. His confidence deteriorated so much last season that he was 2-11 with a 8.58 ERA, allowing 187 hits in 122 2/3 innings.
“I wondered if they’d even bother keeping me,” Nolte said. “I struggled so much. Everything I did was wrong.”
At home in Hemet during the off-season, Nolte compared videotapes of his 1987 and 1990 performances. He couldn’t believe the difference. His arm was flying open. His delivery was awkward. His release point was low.
“And that was just for openers,” Nolte said.
Now, he’s in camp with a new delivery and renewed confidence. His fastball is hitting 90 m.p.h. again. His breaking balls are sharp. His off-speed pitches are cunning.
And after a half-dozen candidates have taken their turn at the No. 5 starter’s job, Nolte remains the only healthy one. Even if he falters today, the Padres say, Nolte still will be their man on the mound April 13 at Dodger Stadium.
“Contrary to what people believe,” said Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager, “you don’t rise or fall on the basis of one outing. Sure, we’ll be taking a close look. But it’s not like everything hinges on one outing.”
Nolte, who attended UCLA, would like to believe that. In truth, all he wants is a nice, calm outing today, pitching the way he’s capable.
“There’s been a lot of soul-searching the last couple of years,” he said. “I’ve gone from one dilemma to another, trying to find something that will click. I hope I found it.
“God, I hope I found it.”
The Padres will announce several roster cuts today, such as pitchers Steve Rosenberg, Adam Peterson and Ricky Bones, but according to a source, they will delay a decision on shortstop Garry Templeton until at least Thursday.
Templeton, who has played more games than any player in Padre history, has batted .300 this spring with five RBIs. Yet, because of his personality conflict with Padre Manager Greg Riddoch, there’s the prevailing opinion among coaches they would be better off without him.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Templeton said. “I’m not going to worry about it. I’ve proved I can still play. I’m ready mentally and physically.”
Said Richie Bry, Templeton’s agent: “Everyone knows what’s going on. Garry can still play. But if something happens, there’s no doubt that there will be a lot of clubs interested in Garry.”
McIlvaine, Padre general manager, said Tuesday that several teams have contacted him in pursuit of Templeton, but because of Templeton’s service time, he can reject any trade. So he instead refers all calls to Bry, to let him know where Templeton is willing to play.
“I’ve talked to the Texas Rangers and a few other teams,” Bry said, “but when the word’s out that he’s going to be released, it impedes all progress.”
The Padres also will decide later whether to keep outfielder Jim Vatcher, 24, or Greg Gross, 38. Although Vatcher has been the surprise of camp, batting .324 with four outfield assists, the Padres are considering sending him to triple-A Las Vegas for more experience. Vatcher’s primary flaw at the plate, according to the Padres, is that he’s unable to hit the breaking ball.
They also are expected to delay a decision on catcher Brian Dorsett. They’ve been impressed with his bat, which has produced a .385 batting average and two homers, but they are unsure whether they want to retain three catchers.
Padre pitcher Ricky Bones became the latest candidate to be eliminated from the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation. He yielded seven hits, four earned runs, two walks and a hit batsman in four innings of a B game.
“We’ve really liked what we’ve seen,” McIlvaine said, “but he’s just not quite ready. We’d like to give more experience at the triple-A level, and then see what happens.”
Bones, 21, says he anticipates being sent to Las Vegas today, particularly since he has made only five triple-A starts in his career.
“I was actually expecting to be sent down a long time ago,” Bones said. “But at least they gave me the opportunity. I’m still young. I’m just learning a changeup now, and if I can get that down, I know I’ll be back up here.
“Now, if they want to keep me up here now, I sure won’t be disappointed.”
Steve Rosenberg and Adam Peterson, acquired Sunday night from the Chicago White Sox, arrived in town just in time to display their talents.
Rosenberg, a left-handed reliever, appeared in the seventh inning of Tuesday morning’s B game, and yielded one bloop hit and struck out one in one inning. Peterson, a right-handed starter, appeared in the sixth inning of the A game, and pitched 2 1/3 innings, allowing three hits and two walks with a strikeout in the Padres’ 10-4 loss to the Angels.
“I’m really excited to be here,” Rosenberg said. “It’s just nice to get a fresh start. Really, I owe a lot to Jerry Reinsdorf (White Sox chairman). He’s taken a lot of crap over the years, but he really helped me by getting me out of there. He easily could have kept me down in triple-A.
“I think this is going to be a good opportunity for me.”
Said Peterson: “I’m excited just because I have a chance to make this club. I didn’t have a shot with the White Sox. I really think the change of atmosphere will do me good.”
Riddoch said that each of the pitchers will start the season in triple-A Las Vegas.
Dave Parker, Angel designated hitter, came into the Padre clubhouse before the game to request a model order of catcher Benito Santiago’s bats. Then he asked for one of Santiago’s bats. “I’m not even going to use this one,” Parker said, “I’m going to stick it in my house because the way I figure it, you’ll be in the Hall of Fame.” . . . Parker, 39, eyeing Padre pitcher Ed Whitson, 35, his former teammate at Pittsburgh: “Hey, it’s nice to see someone my own age still playing this game.” . . . Padre outfielder Shawn Abner crashed into the center-field wall in Tuesday’s B game, the same wall that he hit three years ago. Abner, chasing down a ball hit by Bobby Rose, smacked face first into the wall, leaving him dazed. “I’ve got hit plenty of times before,” said Abner, a high-school football player, “but I’ve never been hit that hard without pads before, that’s for sure.”
Padre Manager Greg Riddoch picks the Dodgers to win the National League West. “They have to have the inside track,” Riddoch said, “because their pitching is so good.” . . . Reliever Larry Andersen, while pitching to Parker, let a pitch go that hit the backstop. The crowd hooted, and Andersen responded by tipping his cap. “I was a mixture of Dorothy Hamill and Scott Hamilton,” he said, “just skating out there. That pitch was a triple-axle floater. Stay tuned, one’s coming near you.” . . . There were six teams interested in Padre infielder Joey Cora at one time, Joe McIlvaine said, but in the end the Padre general manager chose the White Sox over the Cleveland Indians’ offer.
Starter Greg Harris was hammered for eight hits and seven runs, and walked five in four innings. . . . Right fielder Tony Gwynn had his fifth three-hit game of the season, raising his batting average to .438. . . . The Padres, who have sent pitcher Frank Seminara through waivers, will find out Thursday whether he has cleared. If cleared by all 25 teams, he likely will be placed on the Padres’ double-A Wichita team. . . . The Angels’ lineup in the B game was a bit unusual. Bruce Hines, the Angels’ outfield instructor, was in left field. And yes, that was Angel Manager Doug Rader playing first base. Neither, however, took turns at the plate. . . . The Padre players were disturbed to find out that management has taken beer out of their visiting clubhouse in Palm Springs. . . . The Padres will conclude their Palm Springs stay with a 1:05 p.m. game today against the Angels. They begin a three-game series with Seattle in Las Vegas on Friday.
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