© 2006 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
04/20/06 10:10 PM ET
Notes: Piazza ponders past, present
Veteran catcher reflects before game against former team
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
SAN DIEGO -- Renewing acquaintances with some old friends from New York at PETCO Park on Thursday, the Padres' Mike Piazza was in a philosophical frame of mind, pondering where he's been, where he is, where he's going and how he is evolving. "It's a tough game, a humbling game," Piazza said, having struggled with the bat (.231 through Wednesday) since homering dramatically in his first at-bat on Opening Day. "When you're down, it's like sharks in the water. There's no sympathy in this game -- and I don't think any player wants it that way. "I get pitched as tough as ever. I think that's flattering. I don't want anybody taking it easy with me. You want to play the best, beat the best. If you don't, take it home." It's that test of will and skill that fuels and drives Piazza at 37, his Hall of Fame credentials already stored for posterity. He still savors the inner game, the down-and-dirty elements of catching -- and if he's not crushing balls, it's something he can deal with as long as he gets positive feedback from the likes of Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Clay Hensley, young pitchers who have praised his defensive skills and leadership. "As athletes in any sport, you have to find ways to remotivate yourself," Piazza said, having left his catching job in Queens to another ex-Dodger, Paul Lo Duca. "We've all been there; we all get frustrated and insecure. So you just go out and play the game. "Every athlete has to kind of reinvent himself. One way I've helped my team in the past was being a dominating hitter -- for lack of a better word, being a selfish hitter, knowing I had to hit 35 homers and drive in 100 runs to help the team." Piazza doubled twice Tuesday night at Coors Field and rested Wednesday. He senses a few adjustments are about to pay dividends, with his average 80 points below his lifetime figure -- and only four RBIs through 10 games to go with the one homer, No. 398 in his career, against Jason Schmidt in the opener. "Hopefully, my hitting continues to come around a bit," he said. "Maybe my skills have to make up for it in other ways, getting back to the basics -- calling pitches, getting pitchers to believe in themselves, being a teacher. Like talking to Clay [Tuesday night], telling him he can back off the throttle and still be effective getting his sinker down. I'm enjoying that. That's rejuvenated me. "From a personal level, I've evolved a lot. I feel like I've matured as a player and person. The physical taxes the mental. It takes so much time to get ready for a game now -- like an old car. At this age, you have to be very attentive -- especially catching. But I still like the challenge. As long as I enjoy it, I'm going to keep running the race." No. 2 suits Barfield: Moving from No. 8 to No. 2 in the lineup has been a boon to Josh Barfield and the club. He busted out at Coors Field batting second, going 7-for-15, including two triples and his first Major League homer, a 431-foot rocket. "I like the feeling of getting in the game right away when I'm batting second," Barfield said, having lifted his average from .229 to .300. "I'm more comfortable there than in the eight-hole. I see a lot of good pitches hitting between Doc [Dave Roberts] and Brian [Giles]. Hitting eighth, you're not sure what you're going to see." Mike Cameron figured to bat behind Roberts -- and still might when he returns to the lineup, which could happen as soon as Friday or Saturday if his rehab at Class A Lake Elsinore goes well, manager Bruce Bochy said. But Barfield, who is 4-for-4 in steal attempts with better speed than advertised, gives Bochy fresh lineup options. "I like Josh anywhere in the lineup," Roberts said. "He can handle the bat. Obviously, up to this point, he's shown he can handle it. He doesn't need to be concerned about being pitched around in the two-hole." Johnson likes righties: The book says young right-handed hitters are better off facing lefties, but it might lie in Ben Johnson's case. In 75 at-bats in 2005, Johnson was more productive against right-handers (.229 to .185), and he banged his way to a career-high four RBIs Wednesday at Coors Field against a pair of righties, Zach Day and Scott Dohmann. "All through the Minors," Johnson said, "I hit righties as well as lefties. It's all a matter of getting a chance to play. I don't care who's on the mound. I'm going up with controlled aggression. The more I play, the more relaxed I am." Rehab report: Shawn Estes, on the disabled list since April 6 with an elbow strain, could be throwing soon. And Ryan Klesko updated teammates Thursday on his condition following left shoulder surgery that was more serious than he'd anticipated. Klesko, in an upbeat mood, said he can't raise his left arm for at least a month and won't be able to do any baseball activities for two to three months. Coming up: Woody Williams (1-0, 4.50 ERA) will take the PETCO Park mound on Friday night against young Mets right-hander Brian Bannister (2-0, 2.50 ERA) at 7:05 p.m. PT.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.