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Clark’s Struggles Persist; Padres Lose : Baseball: Ward’s emergence relegates left fielder to part-time duty.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jerald Clark already was showered and dressed when his teammates began straggling into the Three Rivers Stadium clubhouse Tuesday after their 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Clark grabbed a plate of food and ate in silence. He had little to say, but his mind was working overtime.

It wasn’t so supposed to be this way. He was going to be the surprise of the team, remember? Tony Gwynn and several of his teammates predicted stardom. The coaching staff projected 20 to 25 home runs.

But with only five weeks remaining in the season, Clark wonders what went wrong.

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Clark, expected to be the Padres’ everyday left fielder for the entire season, now finds himself on the bench. He has lost his starting job. A guy by the name of Kevin Ward, a career minor-leaguer, has taken his place.

Clark tries to hide his emotions, a mixture of anger and confusion. The frustration, however, can not be camouflaged.

“Who wouldn’t be frustrated?” said Clark, who has been bothered by tender ankles the past few months. “I never thought it would go like this. Everything was going so well. Then I got hurt, and now it seems like I can’t get it together.”

Clark, who was batting .269 with eight homers and 35 RBIs on July 19, has decomposed at the plate. He has not hit a home run in the Padres’ past 35 games and has only four RBIs since July 27. His batting average, .280 at the All-Star break, has dropped to .241.

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“We really don’t know what’s happened to Jerald,” said Padre Manager Greg Riddoch, who met privately with Clark after the game. “But we need some production out of left field, and we’re not getting it from him.”

Riddoch said he simply has no choice but to bench Clark, who has not started the past three games.

“It tees me off because I’m getting pitches to hit,” Clark said, “but I’m just not getting the job done. Since the second half’s started, everything’s all gone downhill.

“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong; I just know I’m better than this.”

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Clark’s lone opportunity Tuesday occurred in the fifth inning when he entered the game as a pinch-hitter for Padre starter Ricky Bones. Trailing 3-0, the Padres had runners on first and second with one out.

But Clark hit a grounder to third baseman John Wehner, who stepped on third for one out and threw to first to complete the double play. The Padres never threatened again.

Pirate starter Zane Smith yielded 11 hits, but only Ward did any damage. Ward’s solo home run in the seventh inning ended Smith’s shutout, and his double off the left-field wall in the ninth ruined Smith’s complete game.

The victory enabled the Pirates (73-51) to maintain their four-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League East. The Padres (61-65) are 8 1/2 games behind the Dodgers and Braves.

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For Ward, however, the game brought gratification and hope that he might be sticking around in the big leagues. He went three for four with a homer and double, and in his past four starts is 8 for 15 with three doubles and two homers.

Riddoch confirmed after the game that Ward will be starting against left-handed starters.

“You can’t help but be impressed with what he’s done,” Merv Rettenmund, Padre hitting coach, said. “I love his work habits. The intensity level is there every day. He’s got a major league stroke.

“The only question I had about him was whether he knew he’d be a major league hitter.”

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It would have been easy for Ward to give up the game in 1989. He already had spent six years in the minor leagues, including the past two in triple-A, and the Oakland Athletics wanted to send him to double-A Huntsville.

Ward grudgingly accepted the assignment, and then one day while diving in the outfield, he severed the main ligament in his left wrist. But Ward, a former quarterback and wide receiver out of the University of Arizona, refused to accept the pain.

“The doctors told me I might never play again,” Ward said, “but I didn’t want to believe them.”

Ward had his wrist practically reconstructed. He came back in 1990, played for the Athletics’ triple-A team in Tacoma and became a free agent once again.

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Living on Coronado Island during the off-season since 1989, Ward couldn’t help but notice the Padres needed some outfield help. He contacted Rettenmund, whom he knew from the Athletics. Rettenmund called Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager. And Ward was signed to a triple-A contract.


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