Padres Minor League Spring Notebook III

PEORIA, AZ-- Live batting practice with pitchers throwing to hitters was the highlight of Sunday's session at the San Diego Padres minor league Spring Training complex.

  • Very few hitters were swinging at pitches on Sunday, as many were getting their first taste of stepping into the batter's box against a pitcher this spring.

    With the catcher's calling out the pitch before the delivery, hitters who did swing should have had the upper hand. Rarely was that the case.

    While the hitters were allowing pitches to go by so they could regain their timing and confidence standing in, several players did get in hacks on the balls that were well delivered.

    Young right-hander Chris Wilkes was dominant against Keisy Marte, Jonathan Galvez, Kevin Hansen, and Edinson Rincon.

    Wilkes tossed his two-seamer low in the zone and threw quite a few changeups. Only once did a hitter lift one of his balls into the outfield. Of the 10 or so swings that the hitters made, many were either missed or weak contacts on the ground.

    True to form, Wilkes worked quickly and confidently. More importantly, he was always around the strike zone.

  • Adys Portillo was also sharp in during his session. The pop on his fastball was evident, as was its late tailing action. While he tossed a few that were high and tight, Portillo continues to impress.

    Joey Railey, who stood in against Portillo, praised the right-hander.

    "He definitely has a live ball," Railey said. "He has good stuff."

    The biggest thing that may hinder his development is control of his pitches. When he does flash solid location, he has three above average pitches. Consistency is the key.

  • Tim Stauffer got in his throws off the mound versus live hitters as well. After missing all of 2008, Stauffer lacked the command necessary but that is to be expected.

    His two-seam fastball had good movement down in the zone but the velocity wasn't where it used to be – again, as expected.

    Stauffer is still working the kinks out. Overall, he looked good and has to be pleased with his progress.

  • One of the few hitters that looked like he was locked in was Kellen Kulbacki. He didn't get to strengthen his upper body as much as he wanted to this offseason but remains a powerful specimen.

    Kulbacki hammered a Manny Ayala pitch – a fastball that tailed inside. Kulbacki smashed it with authority and on a line, pulling it to right field and out of the park.

    Many of Kulbacki's homers last season were similar – balls that were lined out of the park.

  • Ernesto Frieri believes he will be in the starting rotation again this season, although the competition is fierce and might send him back to a bullpen role – if not to start the year than during the season.

    Frieri is working on his secondary pitches and looking to work of the fastball. Getting a chance to mingle in big league camp was also a big bonus.

    "It was great," Frieri said. "Obviously, it is always too short, but it makes me want to work harder to stay there."

  • The theme throughout the day in other drills was dedicated to bunt plays. From pitchers to fielders to runners and hitters, various bunt drills were performed and perfected.

    The daily recurrence of fundamentals is vital to the success at the minor and major league level. It provides a muscle memory – giving glimpses of plays that may come up in any game. Having the foreknowledge allows the player to react calmly instead of a sudden panic.

    The wheel play is one of those fundamentals and very precise. Any miscue can give it away. With a runner on second and the shortstop breaking for third and second baseman breaking for first – a hitter needs only to detect it to pull back his bunt attempt and make a hack to hit the ball up the middle of the diamond.

    Minor league field coordinator emphasized a point to the pitchers, "If you know it is a bunt, you have to throw a first-pitch strike. This will only work once. If we give ourselves away, we will become defenseless."

    A pitcher who throws a ball kills the wheel play, as it can't be run on the next pitch. That is just one of the hurdles. The shortstop can't break for third too early and must shuffle over in case the batter pulls back and tries to swing at the ball. The second baseman has a healthy distance to go to cover first, as he is the man holding the runner close to second for a possible pickoff attempt.

    One play – so many little nuances.

    Another area practiced was the squeeze play. Padres roving infield instructor Gary Jones was emphatic in his plea to the runners.

    "If you are calm on the base paths and the squeeze gets called and all of a sudden you are jittery – (taking small dance-type steps towards home when you normally just shuffle or extend your lead) the manager can detect the squeeze."

    Execution of the bunt will normally get the runner home. The runner doesn't get the extra base by himself. Another point – another fundamental.

    And life at every level is trained anew with these lasting memories. Those that don't execute eventually go home.

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