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Padilla will play a key role for Dodgers

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Jon Paul Morosi

Jon Paul Morosi is a National MLB Writer for FOXSports.com. He previously covered baseball for the Detroit Free Press and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He began his journalism career at the Bay City Times in his native Michigan. Follow him on Twitter.

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Two first-place teams have added veteran starting pitchers, at a cost of about $100,000 apiece. And they did so under very different circumstances. John Smoltz is a Cardinal. Vicente Padilla is a Dodger. Neither was on the active roster Wednesday night, when St. Louis won, 3-2, at Dodger Stadium.
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Smoltz is the popular veteran who was wooed aggressively by the St. Louis Chamber of Baseball Commerce, with phone calls from John Mozeliak, Tony La Russa, Dave Duncan and Mark DeRosa. Padilla has the better 2009 numbers but suspect makeup. He's the unpredictable outcast hired under duress. But he's going to help his new team over the final six weeks. In fact, he means more to the Dodgers than Smoltz does to the Cardinals. Smoltz was a luxury for a team that already has one foot in October. Padilla was a necessity for a club that is scrambling for starters. If all goes well for Padilla in a Class AAA start on Saturday, he will be on the mound next Thursday in Colorado. Padilla isn't going to win the Roberto Clemente Award, but the Dodgers aren't fretting about that. They need a pitcher, not an ambassador. Once Hiroki Kuroda was hit in the head with that line drive, once Smoltz picked the Cardinals over the Dodgers, what exactly did you expect general manager Ned Colletti to do? Arizona right-hander Jon Garland is available, after clearing trade waivers earlier this month. But it doesn't appear that an intra-division deal is close at hand. Besides, Garland is 6-11 with a 4.42 ERA. If we put that into our league-to-league converter, that isn't too different from what Padilla did for the Rangers this year (8-6, 4.92). One baseball man described Padilla's reputation as "talented but not trustworthy." If you had any doubt about whether aptitude or affability mattered most in the middle of August, well, the Dodgers have provided the answer. It seems Padilla's tendency to plunk opposing batters wasn't appreciated by Texas teammates bruised by the return volley. Well, now he has to bat. Just a guess here, but the means of retribution in the National League may reduce his knockdown count. That's one reason I believe Padilla will be on his best behavior around Chavez Ravine. The others: He is pitching for a team that could win the pennant, and a strong showing could swing his free-agent value by millions of dollars. Oh, and then there's this: Padilla's new boss, Dodgers manager Joe Torre, is known for his ability to maintain stability within a complicated clubhouse. "We spoke to him today, face to face," Colletti said of Padilla. "We told him he had a clean slate and that he would dictate how the next chapter of his career would be viewed." Padilla, 31, has never pitched in a postseason game. But a good September (and October) might do wonders for an image that needs repair. And for someone who maintained an ERA of 3.88 this year away from the Rangers' hitter-friendly home, it wouldn't be surprising to see a drop toward 3.50 in the National League. The Dodgers, who lead the National League West by 3 1/2 games, have a very good chance of making the playoffs — even though their rotation currently includes two pitchers (Charlie Haeger and Jeff Weaver) who aren't supposed to be there. Padilla will presumably replace one of them. And the team hopes that Kuroda, currently on the disabled list, will be back in the rotation once his post-concussion issues subside. Smoltz, like Padilla, is expected to join his new team's rotation in relatively short order. Mozeliak, the St. Louis GM, said during a Wednesday teleconference that Smoltz will likely start against the Padres on Sunday. The Cardinals sound willing to give Smoltz a few starts to find his way — and to let Duncan work his coaching magic. They don't seem too worried about the second-place Cubs. And they shouldn't be. If his track record with the Red Sox this year is any indication, Smoltz won't be pitching very deep into games. That's OK, I suppose. Mitchell Boggs, the guy he's replacing, hasn't recorded an out in the seventh inning in 13 major-league starts. That's one of the many reasons that Smoltz is a perfect gamble for St. Louis. On Wednesday, though, the Dodgers made the bigger upgrade, for the simple reason that they had the greater need. Padilla may be a zero in the clubhouse, but he's adequate on the mound. And the Cardinals might see that for themselves. About two months from now.
Tagged: Red Sox, Rangers, Dodgers, Cardinals, Padres, Diamondbacks, Jon Garland, Mark DeRosa, Vicente Padilla, Hiroki Kuroda, Mitchell Boggs

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