Nick Hundley has always been something of a streak hitter.
“I’m going to get hot, it’s going to happen,” the Padres’ catcher said 10 days ago in the midst of a slow start.
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Make that a miserable start, even by Padres standards. Hundley opened the season by going hitless in his first 21 at-bats.
That streak was the third longest in Padres’ history to open a season. Ozzie Smith opened the 1979 season by going hitless in his first 32 at-bats. And Tommy Dean was 0-for-25 to open the 1972 season.
But since that streak ended, the 28-year-old Hundley has rivaled long-time friend and teammate Chase Headley as the Padres’ most productive hitter.
Hundley has 10 hits in his last 26 at-bats, including with a double, a triple, two home runs and eight RBI. On Sunday in the Padres’ 6-1 victory over the Phillies in San Diego, Hundley had a career-best four RBI with a two-run homer, a triple and a sacrifice fly.
Hundley has hit safely in six of his last seven games while raising his average from .000 to .213.
“I’m not doing a lot different,” Hundley said Sunday. “I’ve made a couple little adjustments.
“First was the timing. Second, I think I was starting to do a little bit too much. Once I started going three or four games without a hit, I thought, ‘Man, I gotta get a hit.’ That’s the worst thing you can think about.”
And Hundley was thinking about it.
“During the last couple of games during that hitless streak, you could see he was pressing a bit,” said Padres’ manager Bud Black, who gave Hundley a day off after seven consecutive hitless starts.
“You start wondering if you are ever going to get another hit,” said Hundley. “Honestly, you know it is going to happen. But you do start to question yourself and go over every at-bat.”
After all, the last Padre to start the season 0-for-20 was catcher Don Slaught in 1997. And he was released before ever getting a shot at 0-for-21.
Hundley had no fears there.
During spring training the Padres extended his contract, tying the catcher up through the 2015 season, with Hundley guaranteed $9 million and the possibility of $14 million.
That’s even though the Padres have two promising catchers in their system, switch-hitter Yasmani Grandal and coveted 2011 draftee Austin Hedges.
“We love the strides Nick has made as an all-around player,” Black said at the time of Hundley’s extension. “He’s become a leader on this team with the example he sets.”
Part of that example is Hundley’s work ethic. He is one of the first players in the clubhouse every day and usually the last one out, splitting time preparing himself as a hitter and a catcher.
“I’m very regimented,” Hundley said. “I study film of both hitters and pitchers, dividing time there with work in the (batting) cage, the weight room and with the pitchers.”
Added Black: “No one works harder. And everyone sees that.”
Hundley went into the start of the 2012 season expecting immediate results.
After losing nine weeks of the 2011 season to two stints on the disabled list (May 6-June 8 with a strained right oblique muscle and July 8-Aug. 12 for arthroscopic surgery to remove particles from his right elbow), Hundley finished strong.
From his return until the end of the 2011 season, Hundley hit .367 with six home runs and 14 RBI to finish with career highs in average (.288), hits (81), triples (five), home runs (nine), on-base percentage (.347) and slugging percentage (.477) despite playing only 82 games.
Hundley also hit .307 at pitcher-friendly Petco Park, the fourth-highest all-time, single-season mark for any hitter with more than 100 at-bats at the Padres’ home.
And while many Padres over the years have complained about Petco Park, Hundley refused to use the ballpark as an excuse while going 0-for-19 during the season-opening homestand.
“This is not about Petco Park, it’s about me,” Hundley said. “Don’t blame my slump on this ballpark.” Indeed, Hundley was right at home Sunday.
Said Headley, whose career has paralleled Hundley’s at stops in the Padres. system since both signed as second-round picks in the 2005 draft: “I was on second base and you could just see the swing, how free he was. Nick’s been coming along and you knew it was going to happen sooner or later. With a big day like this, he can kind of relax.”
Not Nick Hundley.
He celebrated his big day with a longer than usual post-game session in the weight room.