Ken Leighton 12:03 p.m., Jan. 24
This can't be stressed enough: It isn't Petco Park, and the fences have nothing to do with it. Citizens Bank Park is practically anti-Petco, and Padres hitters aren't doing much damage there, either. The latest victim of the inability of the Padres offense to produce timely hitting is a pitcher named Jeff Suppan.
Suppan, now 37, spent all of last season with Kansas City Royals AAA minor league affiliate, the Omaha Storm Chasers. It's a good guess that Jeff didn't do that for the paycheck, since over his baseball career that began in 1993, he's likely made around $60 million. In February of 2012, he signed a minor league contract with the San Diego Padres - again, just a good guess that the paycheck wasn't the motivating factor.
The contract did not guarantee Suppan of another shot at pitching in the big leagues. To make matters worse, he was injured during spring training. He rehabbed and found himself in AAA Tucson. And then he got the call, the insurance the Padres invested in, someone's hurt, bring up Suppan. And all that Suppan did was to win his first two games in the big leagues since 2010.
Sunday, Jeff Suppan lost his first game since 2010, and he deserved better. Giving up only two earned runs on six hits in six innings, Suppan got little support from the Padres offense. And as has been prevalent throughout April and into May, the Padres had their opportunities at the plate, even against Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels.
Without a hit while having runners in scoring position - eight of them - the Padres lost to the the Phillies on Sunday, 3-2. The two runs that the Padres managed to score came on ground ball outs. Productive, sure, but not nearly productive enough to win most games. And when you get chances to get to a pitcher like Cole Hamels early, you need to take advantage of them.
Hamels scattered five hits and three walks in seven innings, striking out five Padres hitters. His most effective pitch was his change-up, set up with the fastball, and Padres bats seemed fooled often by the change of speed. It was Hamels' first game back after a five game suspension by Major League Baseball for admitting hitting Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals purposefully with a pitch.
The Padres now stand at 12 wins and 23 losses after dropping 2 of 3 to the Phillies. They are second to last in team batting average, better than only the Oakland Athletics, and have struck out more times than any other team in baseball except for the Arizona Diamondbacks. But pitching doesn't seem to be an issue, as the Padres own the sixth best team earned run average in the combined leagues, and issues with pitchers walking batters seems to have minimized. There are two glaring problems with the Padres that likely contribute the most to their record at this point.
Poor fielding isn't helping. The only team in baseball to have more errors than the Padres are the San Francisco Giants. Add to this the limited range of the middle infielders, second baseman Orlando Hudson and shortstop Jason Bartlett, Hudson due to being in the twilight of his career and Bartlett for never having had more than average skills at his position when he was young, never mind that he's now 32 years old. And with Jesus Guzman - who played most of his career at third base but was error-prone there - often playing in left field, sometimes misjudging balls or taking a questionable route to them, even without all of the errors some parts of the defense are sub-par.
Hitting, especially timely hitting, is a big issue 35 games into this season. Most regular position players have at least 100 at-bats. Is 100 at-bats a benchmark to begin to evaluate individual player performances? "Limited sample size," manager Buddy Black often points out when presented with such questions. Is the middle of June a better time to do so?
It's a safe bet that the Padres are constantly evaluating, especially looking at hitting at the moment. Jason Bartlett is barely batting half of what he was last season and that was disappointing even then. Orlando Hudson is struggling to average a hit in every five at-bats. Nick Hundley is slumping again, Chase Headley has cooled off, and Cameron Maybin has yet to get going.
Other than individual abilities or the inevitable slumps that happen in baseball, one other reason could be the lack of a consistent power hitter in the line-up. Carlos Quentin was supposed to be that guy, but has yet to be healthy enough to take the field with the Padres. Without Quentin's long-ball threat, it has to be difficult for Bud Black to come up with a batting order that enables some of the hitters to protect each other adequately in terms of how opposing pitchers throw to a sequence of hitters rather than do so to individual hitters without as much worry as to who bats behind them.
Perhaps it isn't yet fair to the Padres hitters to evaluate them quite yet. Maybe it's best to wait until late June or until Carlos Quentin can flex that lumber in the line up. But it is increasingly clear that regardless of what is fair to Padres hitters, what is happening right now with the Padres offense certainly isn't fair to pitchers like Jeff Suppan.
Speaking of Carlos Quentin, he's taking a breather with his rehab assignment in the minors, with what has been described as a small setback. Some discomfort in the knee that he had arthroscopic knee surgery on earlier this year has appeared.
Tim Stauffer will take the mound Monday against the Washington Nationals. Stauffer has been out since the beginning of the season with a strained triceps, but completed rehab in the minors and reported no problems. The corresponding move to keep the 25-man roster at 25 will be Josh Spence going to AAA Tucson.
According to manager Buddy Black, Mark Kotsay is still day-to-day with back issues. While Kotsay has seen limited playing time, he is currently leading the club in hitting.
Monday, the Padres will have bussed from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. and will face the Nationals in a two game set. Tim Stauffer will face Ross Detwiler in the first game. First pitch is scheduled for 4:05 PM PSDT, FSSD on television and XX 1090 on radio.