Without Deer, caught in the headlights

Rob Deer has more fans than he should considering his career. Yet Deer has been elevated to a position within the San Diego Padres minor league system that speaks volumes of his ability to get through to the youth and future of the franchise. He is the roving hitting instructor. <br><br> "Rob Deer actually, since I have become a Padre, has had a lot of influence on my career," Jake Gautreau said.

Rob Deer? The man of 1,409 strikeouts. It is kind of baffling in a sense.

"It is like he says, he teaches you not to be the hitter he was," Gautreau mused. "He knows what he was supposed to do, he just couldn't do it. He is trying to teach us what he was supposed to do, but he never did."

Jake Gautreau has talked about getting comfortable at the plate, finding his own zone and cutting down on his strikeouts. Simple enough.

So who does he turn to, the man who had more strikeouts than hits every year of his professional career, Rob Deer.

"He is a great guy. He was my hitting coach my first year in Eugene, short season, and he has always helped me out. He helped me out my first season in Lake Elsinore and he is great to work with. He knows a lot about hitting.

"This year is my first year without him as my hitting coach."

Deer was in Portland this past season, while Gautreau was in Mobile.

It coincided with his worst year ever as a player in the minors.

A .242 average with 132 strikeouts in 121 games and fourteen home runs and 55 RBI's to go with 50 walks on the year. In 2002, Gautreau knocked in more runs (62) in less games (93).

How the mighty have fallen. Since his exit from Tulane, Gautreau's numbers have declined. Last year he became more like his teacher, striking out more often than games played or base hits.

"It was a struggle for me and it kind of got worse and worse."

The next question is if Mobile used him properly, he batted second and sixth in the lineup.

"I don't really care where I hit in the lineup. If these guys know what you can and cant hit, I don't think it really matters where you are hitting. I know if you hit eight and nine, you get more fastballs. I just feel like if these guys know you and they know you don't like offspeed, they are going to throw you offspeed. So I don't think it really matters where you hit in the lineup."

The second spot in the lineup is usually reserved for a guy with a touch of speed who can drive the ball into the gaps. The sixth spot is for the last power guy to knock in some runs before heading into the bottom half of the order. Which guy is Gautreau?

"Gap to gap guy who is going to hit some home runs every once in a while. Whenever I am feeling comfortable and hitting well I can be a .300 guy. Talking to people in the game I think average can be sometimes overrated. They are really, really big on runs scored and RBI's. That is what wins ball games. On base percentage, RBI's and runs scored."

His numbers were down this year, that much is true. But one bad season does not a career make. Bouncing back is the next goal. But will it be with the San Diego Padres?

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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