Wednesday, April 20, 2011

First Ludwick, now Hawpe?

One of my favorite staples of the young baseball season is the proven big leaguer who redeems his manager's patience and emerges from the numbing, April slump that plagues so many players. When an otherwordly talent such as Albert Pujols must go through this trying episode of renewal, as he did the month, the sport is more compelling. As bad as Pujols looked to start the season, it was almost inevitable that he would take out his pain on several pitchers. Sure enough, the Dodgers bore the brunt of Pujols' market correction last week.

I think we watch sports partly because the pain is redemptive, for both the players and ourselves. If you want to see unreedemed pain, click on your nightly TV news. Someone has been shot or stabbed or wiped out by a tsunami. Apparently there is profit in trafficking in unredeemed pain, or else why we would see so much of it on TV and in the press? Early in my newspaper days, I worked the cop beat and covered breaking news. Sometimes I was assigned to stake out hospital wards. There, I was to interview the shocked loved ones of some victim of some awful mishap. It's part of why I went into sportswriting.

Tonight at Wrigley Field, the Padres and manager Bud Black enjoyed a redemptive breakout from Ryan Ludwick, who socked the Cubs in the doubleheader's second game. The barrage lifted Ludwick's batting average over .200. His career mark is .266, so there should be more helium in his climb. Next we'll see if the familiar pattern pulls Brad Hawpe out of his misery. His age (31) and lengthy track record as a decent or better hitter argue for a correction. Certainly if the breakout matches the pain, the boon will be bountiful. Hawpe is hitting .119 with 18 strikeouts in 46 at-bats. The slog worsened in the 2-1 loss this afternoon,  Hawpe going 0-for-5 and stranding so many runners that I lost count. It's not crazy to think the Padres would have two or three more victories if Hawpe, their No. 4 or 5 hitter, had been mediocre instead of inept.

"Could Hawpe have had a worse day?" Tweeted one of my Tweeps, dropthegloves2 today. "Shirley to God he has to get better than this!!!" It will get better for Hawpe, but it's worth remembering that the Rockies know him far better than any team, having employed him since 2000, and they released him last summer. Further, there's no worse place for a lefty slugger than Petco Park, and bad luck isn't gripping Hawpe like it did Ludwick. If Hawpe could run a little faster, he might be able to mix in a few infield hits, but the lefty clocked at a none-too-swift 4.4 seconds today on his killer doubleplay. This is shaking out as one of the early season's bearish tests.

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