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Peterson Supplies Padres With a Shot in the Arm : Baseball: Right-hander beats Cincinnati, 5-2, with help from the bullpen and the bottom of the batting order.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Padre starter Adam Peterson awoke in his hotel room Saturday morning and immediately told himself not to think about what lay ahead for the evening. He went out for breakfast. Watched a little TV. And cursed when his horses finished out of the running in the Preakness clubhouse pool.

But never did he think about the significance of his start against the Cincinnati Reds.

This time, pretending that the start was no more meaningful than a spring-training appearance, Peterson shut down the Reds on four hits in six innings, leading the Padres to a 5-2 victory in front of a crowd of 38,495 at Riverfront Stadium.

“I used to always do that,” Peterson said. “I’d put all kinds of pressure on myself. I’d wake up, and say, ‘Geez, I’ve got to basically pitch a no-hitter to open up peoples’ eyes.’ You just can’t do that.

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“You saw what happened when I didn’t.”

To say the Padre management was elated with Peterson’s performance would be like saying President Bush was tickled with the country’s effort in the Persian Gulf. The way Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager, and Manager Greg Riddoch were talking after the game, you’d think Orel Hershiser was making his comeback in Padre pinstripes.

“What a great lift for our club,” Riddoch said. “To have that kind of performance, Wow! He just pitched great, didn’t he?”

Peterson’s performance hardly will be mistaken for a Nolan Ryan gem, but considering the Padres’ pitching woes, who could blame them for wanting to open up a bottle of the bubbly and spray it around the clubhouse?

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It was the first time since April 23 that a No. 4 or 5 starter won a game, and even though Peterson (1-1, 1.59 ERA) has made only two starts for the Padres, he has become entrenched in their plans.

“He’s our No. 4 guy until further notice,” Riddoch said. “Now, all we need is that fifth guy.”

The Padres have decided privately to recall left-hander Dennis Rasmussen, but not for Tuesday’s game against the Atlanta Braves. Jose Melendez of triple-A Las Vegas or left-handed reliever Steve Rosenberg likely will start Tuesday. The Padres want Rasmussen to start Sunday against the Houston Astros.

Rasmussen, who has been in triple-A Las Vegas on a rehabilitative assignment since April 22, has made five starts for the Stars. He entered Saturday’s start with a 0-3 record and 6.98 ERA. The Padres might be dissatisfied with his performance, but their only options were to recall Rasumussen by Wednesday, try to pass him through waivers and keep him at Las Vegas, or allow him to become a free agent. He’ll replace Eric Nolte (3-2, 11.05 ERA), whom the Padres will attempt to clear through waivers and send to Las Vegas.

Whatever happens, none of the impending decisions will affect Peterson, 25, who was acquired in the spring along with Rosenberg from the Chicago White Sox in a trade involving infielder Joey Cora and two minor-league players. Peterson is scheduled to start again Thursday.

“He impressed me,” Padre catcher Benito Santiago said. “He’s got pretty good stuff. I think he’s going to be a big help.”

Although the Reds took hearty cuts against him and sprayed balls all over the field, the only damage done was Paul O’Neill’s solo homer in the fifth inning. In fact, Peterson allowed only two runners to reach second base until he ran into control problems in the seventh. He walked the first two batters he faced in the seventh, throwing only one strike, and Riddoch summoned right-handed reliever John Costello.

Costello struck out Mariano Duncan, induced a fly ball to center from Luis Quinones, but walked Reggie Jefferson, loading the bases. Pinch-hitter Todd Benzinger stepped up to the plate and hit a shot toward the left-center gap that was tailing away from center fielder Bip Roberts.

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“I knew I was in trouble,” Costello said. “My honest opinion was that it was going in for a double, and it might be clearing the bases. It just kept slicing and slicing.

“I kept looking at the ball. Then Bip. Then the ball. Then Bip. The ball. Bip. And he made the catch. That was the play of the game, right there. I owe him a dinner for that one.”

Said Roberts: “I just kept running. I was running before he even hit it. But I knew it was a good play when (Red center fielder) Eric Davis said it was a hell of a play.”

The Reds never again threatened, and Craig Lefferts pitching the final 1 2/3 innings, assuring the Padres of their second victory in 10 games.

As elated as the Padres were about their pitching performance, they couldn’t hide their joy over their 12-hit offensive attack. Although they went without an extra-base hit for the third consecutive game, the last time they had more hits was 26 games ago, April 18.

Shortstop Tony Fernandez broke out of his three-week slump with his first four-hit game in the National League, and the ninth of his career. The heart of the order: Tony Gwynn, Fred McGriff and Benito Santiago each drove in a run. But the bottom of the order had everyone talking.

In the 15 games since No. 6 hitter Jerald Clark injured his left Achilles’ tendon April 30, the Nos. 6 through 9 batted .158 with four runs and 12 RBIs. The breakdown:

* No. 6 spot: .167 with one double and two RBIs.

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* No. 7 spot: .269 with three doubles, one homer, and eight RBIs.

* No. 8 spot: .063 with one double and no RBIs.

* No. 9 spot: .125 with two RBIs.

That’s right, the eighth hitters have been worse than the pitchers’ spot. The last time the No. 8 hitter drove in a run before Saturday was April 20, spanning 24 games and 75 at-bats.

That changed. Thomas Howard, batting seventh, ignited the offense in the second inning with a bunt single, and was driven in by No. 8 hitter Paul Faries. It was just the beginning. By the time the game ended, the bottom of the lineup had gone four for 12 with an RBI. It was their finest game since Clark left the lineup.

“It was nice to be able to contribute for once,” said Faries, who raised his batting average 42 points to .189 with his two hits. “We’ve been a big weight on Freddie (McGriff) and Tony’s (Gwynn) back.

“Who knows, maybe we can do it again.”


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