SAN DIEGO — Bud Black was roaming the dugout, but he wasn’t seeking it.
Black was looking for something, but it wasn’t the panic button. We swear.
To illustrate how far the Padres have come, it’s revealing to notice where they are: right around .500 after almost a month of baseball and remember when that was cause for a parade?
The Padres were notorious slow starters, which morphed into a sad summer, which became a week or two of solid baseball when the pressure was off, which would build hope for the following season.
Rinse and repeat and you’re now up to speed on recent Padres history. But the Padres finally said, “hogwash” to that plan, and after four years of Groundhog’s Day, can you blame them?
Nope, instead Padres fans embraced general manager A.J. Preller’s massive roster turnover as if it was a zesty fish taco.
An outfielder of Justin Upton, Matt Kemp and Wil Myers was alluring. Getting a closer like Craig Kimbrel was amazing. Signing ace Jason Shields? Surely there’s a pinch on-deck because this was an offseason the Friar Faithful could only dream about.
Thing is, what also flipped were the expectations of an antsy fan base which sat through four straight dreadful seasons.
So after winning the offseason, the real McCoy started and how did we circle back to the Chargers coach?
We know: the Padres started Tuesday in third place, where Mike McCoy has finished two consecutive years. But the Chargers will get enough attention this week as we feel the NFL Draft.
The focus here is the Padres and what’s up with a team of which much was promised, but then again, much of the results are mixed.
The Padres are hitting and we say that as often in these parts as “go grab an umbrella.” Instead it’s been the pitching — hello, bullpen — which has made the Padres land in the middle of the road instead of being kings of it.
“They’ll come around,” Black said of his relievers with a collective 4.04 ERA. “They’re not pitching like they’re going to pitch. When you see their numbers at the end of the year, they’ll be there. When you see their numbers now as a group, there are two or three guys not hitting on all cylinders. They are not pitching like they are going to pitch. We need to get on a little bit of a bullpen roll.”
Black is a big rock ‘n’ roll guy — think dinosaur rock — so we’ll lean on a musical analogy.
While the Padres haven’t nailed all the high notes optimism remains, like a struggling songwriter speculating that his big hit is around the corner.
The calendar in a corner of the Padres’ clubhouse might tell the real story.
After the Padres’ mother of all offseasons, it’s not yet Mother’s Day. The season hasn’t matured, but that doesn’t prevent childish observations that the Padres are the same ol’ Padres.
“I think what we’ve seen so far is a team that is a little bit better defensively that what people thought,” Black said. “We think the hitting is fine and I think we are going to pitch better.”
There’s no question the Padres are tenacious. They’ve shown time and again when trailing they no longer tuck their tails. Much of that was because their offense was barely built to play from ahead, let alone rally from a deficit.
“We have a tough team,” Black stressed. “We have a group of guys, and a coaching staff, that have an edge to them.”
But Black, in his ninth season as manager and with gray gaining on the black in his hair, admits its a work in progress.
“We’re still figuring out identity,” he said. “But I see a toughness to the team that keeps playing, keeps battling.”
The big tussles lie ahead. That includes this weekend when the surprising Colorado Rockies arrive downtown.
Regardless of the Padres’ results before the series, Black will chill. If others want to scream “May Day” when it’s still April, so be it.
Just don’t expect Black to clear his throat.
Maybe Black just needs a T-shirt which explains his position: Stay Calm and Padre On.