Padres Will Need to Mend to Contend

To review what was expected of the Padres before the 1991 season began . . .

. . . somewhere between nothing and not much.

This was a roster with so many holes you could have stuck flags in it and played golf. It would not finish last in the National league West simply because Houston had a team it must have assembled from classified ads.

There were holes at second, third, left or center, depending upon where Bip Roberts was playing. There were holes in the starting rotation. There were holes in the bullpen. There were holes on the bench.

Little more than a month into the season, this threadbare club has eight--count 'em, eight--players on the disabled list. It has employed five third basemen, six left fielders and four center fielders. At least seven players have batted in each of the sixth, seventh and eighth spots in the batting order. And the bullpen couldn't put out a fire in an ash tray.

Some other numbers . . .

After 34 games, the Padres had been out-scored 164-134, out-homered 37-21, out-hit .276-.241 and out-pitched 3.24-4.42. A 7-1 loss to the New York Mets in Game 34 Wednesday did not help those numbers.

What's more, fans were grumbling about having to pay $11 a ticket to watch such makeshift lineups.

And yet there was Manager Greg Riddoch sitting in his office before the game with a smile on his face. He actually looked as if he had a ball club in the midst of a pennant race. He had such a big smile I wondered if he had been fired.

How, after all, could anyone be so pleased to be in such a predicament?

"We're not in bad shape," Riddoch was saying. "We're in the pack with everybody else. It's not like we're 12 games out. We get healthy and we have a legitimate shot at it."

Wait a minute.

This team isn't so far from the top it couldn't see it with the binoculars given away Wednesday afternoon?

The Padres, 16-18, were only three games out after Wednesday's spanking.

This team may be treading water, but it does not appear to be sinking.

Getting healthy. That's the key.

"It's no fun like this," said catcher Benito Santiago. "We want to win, but we've got to have the whole team ready to play. I can't believe we went to spring training and everybody was healthy and we wake up and everybody's hurt."

Not everybody's hurt.

Just Phil Stephenson.

And Atlee Hammaker.

And Dennis Rasmussen.

And Pat Clements.

And Greg Harris.

And Jerald Clark.

And Larry Andersen.

And Marty Barrett.

These guys may not be all-star candidates, but it all adds up.

The fastest growing part of San Diego County is no longer North County, but rather the Padre training room. It's more overcrowded than prisons. One more disabled player and they qualify for federal aid.

It might be easy (or convenient) to blame the new training staff, but these don't appear to be preventable injuries.

"The injuries we've got," Riddoch said, "are non-preventable injuries. They're freak things. Clark slips on the wet grass going back to the wall in New York. Clements gets hurt swinging a bat. Hammaker gets hurt in the off-season lifting weights. Marty Barrett gets hurt on a double play."

Of course, freak injuries don't feel any better or heal any faster than twisting an ankle sliding into second base or pulling a muscle running out a ground ball. Getting over them is the key.

That will be the test of the new training staff--getting people healthy. Last year's staff, under Dick Dent, had a track record.

"Last year, when I broke my arm, those guys took care of me," said Santiago. "They brought me back in two months when I might have been out all year."

In the meantime, the Padres are making do.

Pitching is the toughest part. The starting rotation is Ed Whitson, Bruce Hurst, Andy Benes and check with the training room. Harris would be No. 4, but he's hurt. Eric Nolte would be No. 5, but he can't get anybody out. Rasmussen and Hammaker might be in the picture, but they're hurt.

Who, for example, is going to start Tuesday night in Atlanta?

Riddoch did not have an answer. It might be Steve Rosenberg or Mike Maddux or Jose Melendez or Rasmussen. The latter two are currently in Las Vegas. Riddoch doesn't merely check the roster when he sets the rotation, but rather the organization. It has come to that.

Using Rosenberg or Maddux, of course, depends on how heavily the bullpen is worked in the interim. The problem is that the shortage of starting pitching causes the bullpen to be overworked and makes it harder to fill gaps in the starting rotation.

The bottom line is that Greg Riddoch is still smiling. The bottom line is that this seemingly decimated club is staying alive.

The bottom line is that what the Padres have done thus far is somewhat miraculous.

What they really need is one more stop on the trip that begins Friday . . . Cincinnati, Atlanta, Houston and Lourdes.

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