Padres offense is caught in between, but team is still ‘grinding’

In the space between having Adrian Gonzalez and Anthony Rizzo as their first baseman, the San Diego Padres are short on hitting. For now, they’re trying to make up for it with pitching and grit.


Padres closer Heath Bell, right, is greeted by catcher Rob Johnson after picking up a save Sunday. (Nick Wass/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

San Diego scored four of its five runs Sunday off Yunesky Maya, who was making his first major league start of the season. Current first baseman Brad Hawpe, a productive major leaguer who was a key part of a pennant-winning team in Colorado in 2007, hit cleanup and drove in the second and third runs with a single.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good thing starting to go,” right fielder Chris Denorfia, who batted sixth, said before the game. “We got off to a rough start offensively, but our pitching’s always going to be something we can fall back on that will keep us in a lot of games.”

Playing in pitcher-friendly Petco Park is working out well for Denorfia, who spent 2003 and half of 2004 with the high-Class A Potomac Cannons on his way up the Cincinnati Reds system. He has played in the majors with the Reds, Oakland A’s and Padres.

“This is a great organization,” said Denorfia, in his second year with San Diego. “They play the style of ball I like with a bunch of hard-nosed guys in here.”

Not that Denorfia would speak to it, but the lineup as a whole lacks the intimidating presence it had with a 2008-10 all-star first baseman.

Losing Gonzalez, a San Diego native in his prime who had hit at least 30 homers in each of the past four seasons, has taken a toll on Manager Bud Black’s lineup. But Boston could afford to pay the sweet-swinging left-handed hitter $154 million over seven years, and it was able to offer Rizzo and two other prospects — right-hander Casey Kelly and outfielder Reymond Fuentes — along with major leaguer Eric Patterson.

In the interim, the Padres are 22-31 after taking two of three in Washington. Through Sunday night, they were last in baseball in batting average (.227, two points behind the Nationals) and on-base percentage (.296) and 29th of 30 teams in slugging percentage (.334). Their 32 home runs ranked 26th.

A year after finishing only two games behind the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants, the Padres are in another rebuilding process. Rizzo, a left-handed batter hitting .369/.449/.722 at Class AAA Tucson, offers hope, maybe even for this season.

“He’s a pretty talented kid,” Denorfia said of the 21-year-old . “I have no idea what their plans are with him, but he definitely impressed us with his play in spring training. He’s a power guy.”

It should be noted that even Gonzalez, the top pick in the 2000 draft (by the Florida Marlins), needed time to develop. He went from the Marlins to the Texas Rangers to the Padres before realizing his potential.

Going with a retooled roster is nothing new for the Padres, who went to the World Series twice in Tony Gwynn’s 20-year career. They won a pennant in 1984, had a fire sale nine years later, and then were back atop the National League by 1998. For a large number of baseball franchises, that’s simply the way business has to be done.

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