Baek picks up pace to stifle Nationals
Padres complete first road series sweep since July 2006
WASHINGTON -- By his own admittance, Padres pitcher Cha Seung Baek occasionally "loses focus" on the mound, a pickle that begins with a dawdling tempo and typically ends with unnerving results.
So, in the days leading up to Baek's start Sunday against Washington, Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley dropped a suggestion on the right-hander that had nothing to do with his stuff or delivery.
Simply put, Balsley told him to work faster.
"Fewer things break down if you pick it up a little," Balsley said. "He's a good enough athlete to do it."
Adhering to a much faster tempo in what might be his final start of the season, Baek buzzed his way through the Nationals' lineup, allowing one run over seven innings, as the Padres defeated Washington, 6-2, on a sun-splashed day at Nationals Park.
"I saw how aggressive he was today," Padres catcher Nick Hundley said. "He got up on the hill, got his sign and he went. There was not a lot of thought process going on. It looked to me that he threw with a clear mind."
In the process, Baek (6-9) might have also fast-tracked himself for a spot in the starting rotation for next season. At the very least, he's given the Padres something to consider heading into the offseason.
Not bad for May acquisition from the Mariners -- in return for a Minor League pitcher, no less.
"He's high on the list of guys we need to look at in the spring," Padres' manager Bud Black said. "He's pitched well enough, overall, to be one of the five guys."
The victory completed the Padres' three-game sweep of the Nationals, as Baek allowed five hits to go with five strikeouts as he allowed a solo home run to Ryan Zimmerman but little else. Sunday marked the Padres' first road sweep since July 24-26, 2006.
"Today, I thought [Baek's] hard cutter and hard slider were very effective to both right- and left-handed hitters," Black said. "Then I saw effective use of his changeup. He's a guy who has quality Major League pitches."
Baek's success started with his pace, as he didn't dawdle or hesitate between pitches. Nor did he over-think any one particular pitch, instead taking Hundley's sign and delivering at a faster rate than usual.
"Sometimes, there's too much delay," said Baek, who needed 89 pitches to cover his seven innings. "Bals [Balsley] told me 'More tempo.'"
Pace aside, Baek has always believed he could succeed as a starter, though his former team, the Mariners, shuttled him back-and-forth between the rotation and the bullpen, scattering his 24 starts over four seasons. Really, all Baek (6-9) wanted was a chance to prove himself.
"I'm happy, especially this year. I got, what, 18 starts [19, actually] for the first time," Baek said. "Here, they gave me a chance to start."
The Padres might gave Baek more starts next season, as the Padres are considering several in-house candidates to fill out the rotation behind Jake Peavy and Chris Young. Baek, of all of the candidates, might have the best stuff and an ability to miss more bats than Josh Geer, Wade LeBlanc and Shawn Estes.
"I don't know about the business end of it, but from the pitching end, he can get the job done," Hundley said.
The Padres (61-95) know a little something about missing bats, as they accumulated 15 strikeouts on Sunday against three Washington pitchers, including 11 at the hands of starting pitcher Odalis Perez (7-11).
But San Diego certainly made the most of its eight hits, as Kevin Kouzmanoff drove in three runs with two hits while Adrian Gonzalez continued his fast finish, hitting his 35th home run of the season.
Gonzalez likely won't reach 40 home runs, though he has hit seven home runs in his last 10 games. On Sunday, his solo home run put him into a tie with Fred McGriff (1992) for sixth place on the team's single-season home run list.
His 116 RBIs also move him into sixth place on the single-season list, as he displaced Joe Carter, who drove in 115 runs in 1990.
"It's very impressive," Black said. "Adrian is able to go foul line to foul line. ... That is when he's at his best. He's very difficult to pitch to."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.