Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Black blows steam

Bud Black insisted to me that his ejection today had nothing to do with wanting to ignite the lads, or preferring to be somewhere else when the Padres came to bat again.

"I didn't want to get tossed," he said after the Padres rallied to beat the Reds 3-2, averting a sweep.

I neither believe nor blame Pepe Negro on that score, as these are strange times.

Gene Mauch's ghost has inhabited Black this young season, the Padres bunting in three consecutive games with a man on second base and none out, twice with their No. 3 hitter. They failed each time, but as you'll read below if you make it that far, Black isn't backing down on Bunt Ball.

I can only assume it's his way of telling the Doogster that he didn't give him enough hitters to offset Adrian Gonzalez's absence, so let's have our best hitter bunt, bunt, bunt away.

Screamers Lou Piniella and Earl Weaver aren't in our skipper's repertoire, but for a guy whose Royals teammates used to call him Mister Freeze, Black gave plate umpire Angel Hernandez an earful from the dugout in the fourth inning as Tim Stauffer pitched.

Black had yelled at Hernandez after Stauffer took a called third strike the previous inning, and now, when Hernandez deemed Stauffer's curveball to Reds pitcher Travis Wood was wide, Black screamed a few more  words.

This blog is G-rated, so I won't print the naughtiest word that Black hollered.

Just know that I've never heard him use that word or many of its cousins, and I've been around him through a lot of thick and thin since he took over in 2007.

Apparently he then yelled something sarcastic after Hernandez called strike three on the next pitch, whereupon the ump gave the National League's reigning Manager of the Year the heave-ho, as baseball commentators like to say.

Black then ran onto the field and gestured angrily before taking his leave. The crowd cheered. Catharsis, it's called. Until then, and for a few innings more, a maddening homestand had become even more maddening.

The Padres were still down a run in the eighth when Orlando Hudson, the No. 3 hitter, batted with Jason Bartlett on second base and none out against a wobbly Aroldis Chapman.

Chapman's pitch speed was way down on Tuesday, and the lefty reputedly doesn't rebound spryly from outings, and now he was looking sluggish. He had walked Bartlett, then advanced him to second with an errant pickoff throw.

I dislike throwing a lifeline to a struggling pitcher. Which is what the Padres did. Through his replacement, Rick Renteria, Black gave the bunt sign to Hudson. Mind you, Hudson has been raking of late. Along with Nick Hundley he's been the team's best hitter this month.

Hudson bunted the ball too hard. Chapman made a good play to get Bartlett at third. Even if it had worked, I'd rather see my hot No. 3 hitter swing the bat against a struggling pitcher.

"My manager asked me to bunt and I didn't get the job done," Hudson told me. "Even if he didn't ask me to bunt, I'm not a 100-RBI guy, so in my mind I've got to get this guy over there."

The Padres still tied the game that inning, with help from a Reds throwing error.

How did they win the game? Lining the first pitch, Hudson singled in the ninth with the bases loaded and two outs.

Let's be clear: I'm not anti-bunt. And, having covered a lot of baseball, I know there are many ingredients behind the scenes that clubs cannot divulge when explaining tactical moves. For example, some hitters just aren't comfortable hitting against certain types of pitchers. When Hudson bunted in the season's second game as the No. 3 hitter in a similar spot, it made more sense, as he and the Padres were just getting their sea legs.The next day when he tried two bunts in a key spot, I wasn't wild about it. And now, when a No. 3 hitter bunts with the bases empty and none out in consecutive games,  it seems overly cautious.

"Orlando is a good hitter," Black said, when I told him I'd rather he was swinging than bunting today. "But I still think his game -- Orlando Hudson's -- I think the bunt is part of his game. To advance the runner. To get the guy to third base with less than two outs -- that increases our chances percentage-wise to get that run in.

"I still say, in that situation, it forces the infielders to come in, and it increases your chances to score that run from third."


* Hudson called it more than just a nice victory. "It was a great win for us, not pretty good. It was a great win for us. We lost two tough games to the Reds, and to come out and win a one-run ballgame, hopefully the momentum will shift a little bit."

* Joey Votto's beautiful swing was evident today, yielding a double and two singles, but Votto, who got my MVP vote last year, did some strange things in this series. He runs well and should've scored from first base on Tuesday when a two-out double went into the right-field corner. Heck, right fielder Will Venable assumed he had no shot at Votto and threw to second base, but Votto stopped at third. Today, Votto assumed he'd hit a home run off Stauffer, so he Cadillacked it out of the box. Welcome to Petco Park, Joey. The ball hit off the left-center field wall and because Votto hadn't been running, he ended up with a double instead of a triple (center fielder Cameron Maybin didn't track the ball well). Later, playing first base, Votto may have cost his team a key out because he wasn't on the bag when fielding a throw.

* I'll say it again: I've never seen Hundley look so comfortable at the plate. His hit-and-run single that led to Hudson's winning hit was another beauty.

* Yo, Adrian: Padres first basemen entered today with the lowest OPS (.342) in the NL with a .128 batting average and .163 OBP.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tom, I love reading these, keep em coming!