Padres crank up baserunning pressure
With more athletic squad, team pushes aggressiveness
PEORIA, Ariz. -- There was no arm twisting or a great push to persuade Padres manager Bud Black on the merits of aggressiveness on the bases. It's an edict the front office has been preaching since before the team arrived at Spring Training camp.
For Black, it's always been a no-brainer.
Black, a former Major League pitcher, need only recount his personal dealings with baserunners in his day, something that doesn't exactly qualify as a warm memory in his mind.
"From my experience on the mound, I didn't like it," Black said. "Neither do the catchers and neither do the position players."
Welcome to Padres camp, where the light is, apparently, always green.
San Diego, under first-year general manager Jed Hoyer, would like nothing more than an athletic team that can run itself into a few additional runs this season, especially on those 81 occasions the team plays at PETCO Park, where runs are precious commodities.
To get there, the organization has pushed the agenda of pushing things on the bases. That doesn't simply mean stealing bases, though. Former Padres and Major League outfielder Dave Roberts, a special assistant, has been brought in to help with this program.
"We're not taking comfortable leads," Black said. "We stressed it before, now we're heightening it."
The Padres have eight stolen bases in eight games in Cactus League play and have been caught stealing four times. Stealing bases, though, is only one small part of the equation.
Roberts and first-base coach Rick Renteria have worked closely with players this spring on getting bigger leads and taking better secondary leads. But they're also emphasizing taking the extra base and stressing how this can all be disruptive on an opposing defense.
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"We're very excited. We're creating scoring opportunities," Roberts said. "There's a lot of energy, we're running the bases aggressively, not just stealing bases but taking aggressive leads, forcing errant throws."
"It's something we as an organization are trying to impose on guys. They are buying into it. I think the mindset is starting to change."
Black has even gone as far to implore his baserunners to take Cactus Leagues chances, regardless of risk, though nothing too haphazardly. These games don't count, but these lessons, as Black hopes, will.
"It's great to have Buddy to say, 'Test the limits and push it,'" said Padres outfielder Will Venable. "It's like the Angels, when you get a ground ball in the outfield, no matter who is on base, you need to get that ball back in. We want to be that kind of team, where other teams are feeling that pressure because we're running aggressively."
On Tuesday against the Angels, 272-pound left fielder Kyle Blanks turned a double into a triple on a ball in the gap. Venable, taking an aggressive lead off third base, forced a throwing error that allowed him to score. Also, Chris Denorfia, with an extended lead at first base, forced a throw over that led to an error and another run.
"That's kind of what we're looking for," Blanks said.
Hoyer said that because the Padres play half their games in a ballpark that ranked dead last in the Major Leagues in home runs and second-to-last in doubles in 2009 (trailing Cleveland's Progressive Field), it only makes sense for the team to try and steal a few runs when it can.
"It's important for a young, athletic team to run the bases hard," Hoyer said. "And in our ballpark, we play a lot of one-run games. It could make a difference."
Roberts, who grew up in Oceanside, north of San Diego, and played for the team in 2005-06, finished his career with 213 steals in a 10-year Major League career. He understands the importance of aggressiveness on the bases.
He's only happy, along with Renteria, to pass that knowledge on.
"It's nice to have the athletes," Roberts said. "I've been a Padres fan my whole life and I can't remember from top to bottom -- 1 through 13 position players -- having this much athleticism on the club at one time."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.