2003-05-16 / Sports

San Diego’s Young Gun Peavy Rising To The Top

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch
San Diego’s Young Gun Peavy Rising To The Top By Bryan Hoch Baseball Columnist


BRYAN HOCHBRYAN HOCH

When you talk about baseball’s bumper crop of new and upcoming pitchers, one name that consistently comes up in discussions with those ‘in the know’ is young San Diego Padres righthander Jake Peavy.

Peavy, just a tender 21 years of age, is only a few years removed from high school, yet scouts say he exhibits the maturity and poise of a pitcher who’s been in the major leagues for four or five seasons.

The Padres don’t figure to contend this season in the tough National League West, but as San Diego prepares to move into the brand new downtown Petco Park, they’ll be relying heavily on Peavy’s talented young arm to anchor their youthful pitching staff.

Packing a a low-90’s fastball along with a above-average changeup and slider, Peavy possesses a pitching style that has been compared to future Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux.

That’s rather high praise for any rookie hurler, and for some, the expectations might be crushing. Not so for Peavy, who’s blessed both with the relative anonymity that comes with pitching in San Diego and by the perfect atmosphere for young players underneath hands-off manager Bruce Bochy.

"I expect a lot from myself, but I’m fortunate to be in a good situation here and make it here at such a young age," Peavy said. "[Padres GM] Kevin Towers and all the guys here who are in charge have shown a lot of confidence in me to throw me out there every fifth day."

And why not? One season after he made his way int7 starts for San Diego, going 6-7 but leading the Padres in strikeouts per nine innings at 8.3, Peavy rewarded his club’s faith by nailing down wins in his first three outings against tough division rivals Los Angeles (twice) and San Francisco.

His recipe for success? It’s a mantra that’s been repeated by pitchers for years and years – just get a quality pitch through the zone and, if the batter should happen to hit it, let your fielders do the rest of the work. So far, so good.

"I’ll try to throw a lot of strikes and stay aggressive in the zone, and use what the good Lord has given me to try and get guys out," Peavy said. "I don’t try to trick a whole lot of guys. If I just stay aggressive and make my pitches, I think I’ll be OK."

He cooled off in early May, falling to 4-3 on the season with a pair of four-run outings against lesser competition in Pittsburgh and Montreal, but bounced back strong in his last start at Shea Stadium against the Mets, where he held New York to two runs and seven hits over 6-1/3 innings in a no-decision.

Good old Shea has actually been friendly to Peavy both times he’s ventured into the Big Apple – last August, he went 8-1/3 innings against New York on the mound and notched three hits for himself at the plate.

That might have been as much due to the Mets’ putrid offense as it was to Peavy’s talent on the mound, but for this admitted outdoorsman from Mobile, Ala. who’s just as comfortable with a bass rod as a fastball, pitching in cities like New York has been quite the experience.

"I’m a small time guy, but it’s fun coming to these big cities and getting to see places like New York and what it’s all about," said Peavy, who named Montreal and St. Louis as his favorite road cities because of the good fishing. "The smaller, the better for me, but I enjoy the whole experience."

"I’m just trying to act like I belong for the most part, and trying not to be in awe of these players," Peavy admits. "Sometimes, it’s tough out there: you’re holding the ball and you want to get the guy at home plate to sign it, instead of getting him out with it."

• ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine has made a series of interesting points regarding Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who returned this week from the dislocated shoulder he suffered on Opening Day in a collision with Blue Jays catcher Ken Huckaby.

Valentine, who once suffered a similar injury during his playing career, observed that Jeter – despite a strong rehab stint at Double-A Trenton – is still unable to get around on a pitch high and tight, thanks to the soreness in the shoulder that Jeter is apparently favoring. Valentine expressed no doubt that Jeter would soon make the necessary adjustments, but until he proves he can turn on that high and tight fastball, AL pitchers should be fined $500 for any pitch they throw below the belt to Jeter.

• Here’s Bud Selig for you: Major League Baseball is investigating the Florida Marlins regarding their recent hiring of 72-year-old Jack McKeon after the dismissal of Jeff Torborg, and may levy a fine of up to $2 million upon the troubled Miami franchise. The offense? Florida didn’t first interview a minority candidate before hiring McKeon.

I’m all for equality in the major leagues, but how exactly does it benefit minorities for the Marlins to truck in a guy who has absolutely no chance of getting the job for an interview? It was clear to everyone with the speed that they hired McKeon that they’d made up their minds that this was ‘the man’ – why should the Marlins have to waste their time, and the time of the interviewee, by going through to motions to satisfy the league office?

Selig’s edict works on some levels – as a matter of fact, you can make the case that the Mets might have been better off hiring Yankees coach Willie Randolph, whom they apparently interviewed this winter just to satisfy MLB – but it’s just one more flagrant example of how the suits at 245 Park Avenue don’t have all of their engines in gear. Bryan Hoch appears weekly
in the Wave. He can be contacted at bryanhoch@yahoo.com.


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