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Towers, Padres playing to prove naysayers wrong


Towers, Padres playing to prove naysayers wrong
Who would have ever guessed in spring training that Peoria, Ariz., would turn out to be the cradle of champions?

OK, perhaps it's a bit too early to crown the Mariners and the Padres, who share more than a training complex. For starters, both teams entered the season with minuscule expectations that they've spent the first two weeks obliterating.

For the past decade, the M's and the P's been linked as incongruous "natural rivals" in interleague play. Last year, they jockeyed all year for the worst record in Baseball, a distinction that would have brought the prize of first crack at pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg in the June draft.

Fittingly, they both lost, as the Washington Nationals surged beneath them with 102 losses one more than the Mariners , three more than the Padres.

Heading into this season, the Padres were roundly expected to battle the Nats again for bottom-feeding honors in the National League. The Mariners were supposed to be better than last year, but few pegged them as contenders.

But look at them now. After Friday's games featuring rousing comeback wins by both clubs the Mariners and Padres each stood atop their division with identical 8-3 marks (San Diego was tied with the Dodgers).

"Jack [Zduriencik] and I talked in spring we lost 200 games between both clubs in Peoria," Padres general manager Kevin Towers said in a phone interview. "There probably were not a lot of external expectations. Internally, we both felt we'd be better.

"Still, the only way to prove the naysayers wrong is to do it on the field. That's what Jack and the Mariners have done, and what we've done so far."

"So far" being the operative words. Towers is realistic enough to understand that the Padres have potential weaknesses, and their continued success is not guaranteed. Even the giddiest Mariners fan would have to agree the same goes for them.

Yet Towers hopes that winning early is going to imbue San Diego's players with confidence, while solidifying the clubhouse chemistry. Sound familiar?

"Hey, we're going to ride it as long as we can," Towers said. "So far, it's been good, and who knows? Maybe the guys will fall in line and have success for six months."

Mark down June 16-18 and 23-25. That's when these two juggernauts meet for their annual interleague showdown (first in San Diego, then Seattle).

Their next big battle could come on June 9, which is the date of the amateur draft.

"I've told Jack more than one time: Stay away from Strasburg if he slides to you," Towers said with a laugh.

Towers, who worked on Zduriencik's scouting staff with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early 1990s, has done a remarkable job of rebuilding the Padres on the run. And he credits Zduriencik, indirectly.

"Jack plucked a couple of guys right ahead of us [off the waiver wire, which allows teams to select in reverse order of the previous year's record]," Towers said. "I said, `Forget it, I'm not going to wait for waivers. I'll make trades.' "

During spring training alone, the Padres added released players Duaner Sanchez, Shawn Hill and Chad Gaudin (currently in the minors, but due up soon); picked up Walter Silva, Frankie de la Cruz and Edward Mujica in cash deals; acquired Luke Gregerson as the player to be named from St. Louis in the Khalil Greene trade; and claimed Luis Perdomo from the Giants.

Hill and Silva are in San Diego's rotation. Sanchez, de la Cruz, Mujica, Gregerson and Perdomo are all part of a bullpen that ranks second in the National League with a 2.04 earned-run average.

"Most of our 'pen was truly put together with 10 days to go in spring training," Towers said. "And starting Hill came late; Silva really didn't pitch until the last couple of weeks of spring training. It was kind of the lightning round putting our pitching staff together."

And that was the result of Towers' realistic assessment of his team at the outset of spring training.

"We didn't like what we saw of our pitching the first three weeks of spring training,"he said. "We needed to be proactive. If we had started the season with what we had at the beginning of spring, it didn't look too good."

At the moment, it looks very good for both the Padres and Mariners . Towers is thrilled for his mentor Zduriencik, fondly remembering the days they'd work around the clock eating greasy hamburgers in Pittsburgh preparing for the draft.

"He's one of the greatest guys I've ever worked for," Towers said. "I learned so much from him. He treats people well, he's well spoken, and there's no BS. People within the small fraternity of Baseball couldn't be happier for him.

Joked Towers, "He's kind of become more KGB since he took over in Seattle. He's more of a close-to-the-vest guy than when I knew him."

Both Towers and Zduriencik are content to ride out their team's early success and see where it leads them. If it turns sour, both will face the issue of potentially trading off veterans Jake Peavy, most prominently, in San Diego, and potential free agents Adrian Beltre, Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn in Seattle.

"I'm just going to take it one day at a time," Towers said, more than once.

One glorious day at a time.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 21, 2009

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