Jay Paris: For Padres to succeed, ‘Buddy Ball’ has to roll

The catch for the Padres is how they pitch.

Much can be said, and predicted, about the season, which is finally here.

That the Padres started right on Opening Night was oh-so-sweet. That the win came against the dreaded Dodgers was the cherry on top.

But for this to be a cheery season, the Padres have to be marvelous on the mound.

The Padres are always challenged offensively, and that’s by design.

Not so much the Padres cobbling a run here, adding another one there. It’s keeping rivals from spinning the scoreboard, which is key.

The Padres’ blueprint is to score as much from out of the batter’s box as from it. That was proven when the curtain lifted on Sunday night.

Those in attendance will marvel years from now about pinch-hitter Seth Smith’s cloud-touching home run which tied the game.

But astute baseball observers know this game was won with little ball, not the big hit.

Let’s call it Buddy Ball and manger Bud Black needs to have it flourish on a consistent basis for the Padres to rise about .500 for the first time since 2010.

Half of the Padres’ template was unveiled after Smith’s homer.

The other half came when starter Andrew Cashner allowed a run on four hits in six solid innings.

Following Smith’s blast, pinch-hitter Yasmani Grandal walked. When Everth Cabrera bunted, Buddy Ball was on full display.

That Dodgers reliever Brian Wilson mishandled Cabrera’s bunt only gave credence to “Buddy Ball.”

When the following hitter, Chris Denorfia squared to bunt as well, Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe sprinted in. That left an unoccupied third base, which was suddenly occupied by a slow-footed, but heads up Grandal.

When the Dodgers conceded second base to Cabrera on the next pitch, suddenly two runners were in scoring position despite a batted ball never getting past the mound.

Denorfia followed with a two-run single to supply the Padres with the go-ahead runs. That sent a giddy Petco Park record crowd and its “Beat L.A.!” chant into the Gaslamp night.

For the Padres to shine, this is the way they must go about it.

A review of their lineup doesn’t reveal a player penciled in to smack 30, or even 25, home runs.

The closest would be Jedd Gyorko, the second baseman who led all National League rookies with 23 homers.

Otherwise, it’s a gimpy slugger in Carlos Quentin, an enigma in third baseman Chase Headley and a first baseman in Yonder Alonso who aims for gaps, not bleachers.

Will Venable? He had a career-high 22 home runs last year and expecting him to eclipse that is a stretch.

So it goes back to Buddy Ball, which involves manufacturing offense through creative ways other than waiting for someone to crush a three-run homer.

Which gets us back to pitching.

The Padres require it in spades to win the inevitable low-scoring games that surrounds them like the marine layer does their downtown digs.

Now you know why they gambled $8 million on broken down starter Josh Johnson. Why owners scratched a $15 million check on an eighth-inning specialist in Joaquin Benoit.

What’s odd is their rotation was constructed by everything this side of Kobey’s Swap Meet purchases. With an organization mantra of “draft and develop, draft and develop” its starters were pieced together like someone cruising a junk yard to fix their jalopy.

The prized Cashner was the key piece in the Anthony Rizzo trade with the Cubs.

Tyson Ross, another power pitcher with a huge upside, was peddled by the A’s.

Ian Kennedy was surrendered by Diamondbacks’ general manager Kevin Towers. The former Padres’ executive built his reputation on predicting pitchers’ successes, so Kennedy comes with that warning tag.

The veteran Eric Stults pitched in Japan to keep his career alive, and found a second life even if there’s not much life to his fastball.

Then there’s Johnson, the 2010 National League ERA leader.

Since, he’s been beset by injuries and begins the season on the disabled list. Robbie Erlin replaces Johnson; he arrived via a trade from the Rangers.

If the starters excel, they’ll pass the baton to a bullpen with its impressive back end of Benoit in the eighth, Huston Street in the ninth.

What we’ve learned as Petco Park toasts its 10th season is runs are tougher to find than a Padres fan wearing a Dodgers cap.

With that knowledge, it’s all about the Padres’ pitching and Buddy Ball having plenty of bounce.

Contact Jay Paris at jparis8@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports.



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