The Seattle Mariners’ failure to find room on their pitching staff for Jose Melendez may turn out to be a bonanza for the Padres.
When the Mariners tried to send Melendez to the minors toward the end of spring training, the Padres plucked him off the waiver list in the hope that he might bolster their second-line pitching. He has emerged as a starter, and he was outstanding in the Padres’ 4-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs Sunday at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
Melendez, 25, from Naguabo, Puerto Rico, balanced his record at 2-2 with a crisp performance in which he held the Cubs to six hits in seven innings and struck out a career-high eight batters. Larry Andersen finished with two perfect innings for his second save.
Just two pitches separated the Melendez-Andersen duo from a shutout. Melendez gave up home runs to pitcher Greg Maddux and Mark Grace, the Cubs’ first baseman from San Diego State. Maddux’s homer was the first of his major league career, which dates back to 1986.
“When a pitcher hits one, you’ve got to be mad,” Melendez said afterward. “I threw him a fastball, and he jumped in there and got lucky. Grace is just a great hitter. I threw him away the whole day, and when I tried coming inside, he hit it out.”
Grace’s home run, his fourth of the season, gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead in the sixth. But in the bottom of that inning, Jerald Clark became the hitting star for the second consecutive day with a two-run homer, also his fourth. Clark had singled in two tie-breaking runs in the eighth inning Saturday.
Aside from the two home run balls he threw, Melendez had the free-swinging Cubs in check as the Padres made it two out of three in the weekend series in front of 28,961.
Melendez said he had learned from the mistakes he made when the Cubs beat him, 6-2, in Chicago June 6. That was his second start since being promoted from Las Vegas, the first having been a two-hit gem for eight innings against the Houston Astros.
“The first time, I didn’t know about them (the Cubs),” Melendez said. “Today, I knew what I could do and I could go after them. I had good control, and I had my forkball working.
“I like to face a team like that. They have a lot of good hitters, and that makes me do more concentration.”
The Mariners were not the first team to find Melendez expendable. He signed originally with the Pittsburgh Pirates, in 1984, and was drafted by Seattle after the 1988 season. His only previous major league exposure came last September, when he struggled to an earned run average of 11.81 in three outings for the Mariners.
Padre General Manager Joe McIlvaine explained how the Padres got Melendez.
“His three options were used up, so the Mariners had to put him on irrevocable waivers,” McIlvaine said. “All of the American League clubs passed on him, but we had good reports on him, so we claimed him.”
Melendez was ll-4 at Triple-A Calgary last year, pitching mostly in relief.
“Seattle had too many right-handed starters,” he said. “When I got only six innings in spring training, I figured they didn’t want me.”
The Padres sent Melendez to Triple-A Las Vegas to be a starter, and he was 7-0 before being called up May 30.
“I feel comfortable here,” he said. “I hope I can stay here the whole year.”
Time alone will tell, but Melendez has impressed Manager Greg Riddoch.
“He really pitched great today,” Riddoch said. “He could be 3-1, but a couple of mistakes beat him the last time out.”
Clark was playing first base, as he was Saturday, because Fred McGriff was sidelined by turf toe. After his heroics both days, he is a cinch to reclaim his left field job when McGriff returns, which probably will be tonight against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was the regular left fielder until he was forced out by an Achilles tendon injury last month.
“It’s been an up-and-down year for me,” Clark said. “It’s been a frustrating year, too, because when you finally get to the major leagues, you want to play. I’m not at the point anymore where I’m just happy to be here.”
Clark’s home run was a line drive over the wall in left-center, and he said, “I didn’t think it would go out. That’s why I was especially elated when it did. Maddux is a good pitcher, and I hit a pretty good pitch.”
Maddux, whose older brother, Mike, pitches for the Padres, didn’t buy Clark’s last statement.
“I wanted it inside, but I got it too far over the plate,” he said. “You can’t make a bad pitch in a situation like that. One inning can ruin a good game, and one at-bat can ruin a good inning. That’s what happened.”
Clark’s home run followed a single by the sizzling Tony Gwynn, who two innings earlier had tied Gene Richards’ club record by stealing the 242nd base of his career.