Padres cater to NL game

It was one of the reasons that David Wells left. He hated being lifted for a pinch hitter. The National League game, however, demands it as pitchers are asked to hit.

One of Bruce Bochy's strengths as a manager is playing the National League game -- using his bench for double switches and pinch-hitters.

And in the past, Padres general manager Kevin Towers has always supplied Bochy with a usable bench. "We didn't have that this season," Towers said after the end of the 2004 campaign. "The bench was an area we need to improve for 2005. I've got to supply Bruce with stronger reserves."

Padres pinch-hitters batted a collective .203 last year with five homers and 24 RBI in 212 at-bats. So committed was Towers to improving the Padres bench that he made it his No. 2 priority behind re-signing left-handed starter David Wells (whom the Padres lost to Boston on Saturday).

Before Wells' departure, Towers filled the bench void by signing two versatile free agents, Eric Young and Geoff Blum. Earlier, Towers returned former Padre Damian Jackson to the ranks with a minor league contract.

The 37-year-old Young got close to $1 million for 2005 and an option for 2006 from the Padres. The right-handed hitter batted .288 with Texas last year while stealing 14 bases (a total that would have led the Padres) and driving in 27 runs in 344 at-bats.

Young, who had more walks (43) than strikeouts (28), also played five positions -- short, second, third, left and center. Young has played center as a regular before, an extra plus at a position where the Padres struggled last year. Young, a .285 career hitter, also has had three 50-steal seasons.

Blum, 31, signed a one-year contract with the Padres. Like Young, he played five positions last year for Tampa Bay. But he hit only .215 with eight homers and 35 RBI in 339 at-bats. He is a career .254 hitter.

The Padres' top reserves last year were outfielder Terrence Long (who was traded to Kansas City for starting pitcher Darrell May) and infielder Rich Aurilia (who was not offered arbitration as a free agent).

Long hit .340 as a pinch-hitter last year. Aurilia was more than capable coming off the bench until late season injuries to third baseman Sean Burroughs and shortstop Khalil Greene forced Aurilia into the starting lineup.

Most of the power on the bench last year was supplied by reserve catcher Miguel Ojeda, who returns. And Ramon Vazquez, who is arbitration eligible, did an adequate job defensively in the infield although his .235 average was far below expectations.

Defensively, no one on the bench in 2004 was a capable backup center fielder.

"We wanted to add speed and flexibility to the bench," said Towers. Young supplies both.

"This is the one time in my career I'm glad I didn't hit more homers." -- Tony Gwynn, speaking after the steroid controversy broke

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