Petco strikes again: Padres fire hitting coach
Randy Ready was fired by the San Diego Padres on Thursday, the fifth hitting coach to get the heave-ho since the team moved into spacious Petco Park in 2004.
Ready is the only member of manager Bud Black's staff not to be invited back in the wake of a 71-91 season in which San Diego's hitters once again struggled in the big downtown ballyard. The vast swath of outfield has led to the derisive nickname of Petco National Park.
''The last thing I'd ever want to do is make people think I was holding him up responsible for a 71-91 season,'' general manager Jed Hoyer said. ''I hold myself up responsible for that. In no way was this about that.''
Ready became hitting coach on July 31, 2009, after Jim Lefebvre was fired after just four months on the job. Ready had been a manager in the Padres minor league system, so he was familiar with many of the players.
While Ready was good with game preparation and the mental side of hitting, Hoyer said he wants to make ''a stylistic change more than anything'' by bringing in a coach who will work more with hitters' mechanics.
''I understand how hard it is to hit here,'' Hoyer said.
As Boston's assistant GM, he worked with hitting coach Dave Magadan, who was fired by the Padres on June 15, 2006. Magadan ended up winning a World Series ring with the Red Sox in 2007.
Magadan was replaced by Merv Rettenmund, who in turn was fired on July 31, 2007, and replaced by Wally Joyner. Joyner resigned with six games left in the 2008 season, before he could be canned.
''This isn't a decision we made lightly,'' Hoyer added. ''It was really based on trying to get someone that can hopefully get some of these young hitters we have who may have stalled out a little bit, to really jump-start these guys and maybe make some changes mechanically that weren't happening.''
To ease the burden on the new hitting coach, Hoyer said the Padres will bring in a second hitting coach. That coach won't be able to be in the dugout during games.
It didn't help Ready's cause that Padres traded three-time All-Star slugger Adrian Gonzalez to Boston for three prospects and utilityman Eric Patterson in December.
The low-payroll Padres, largely devoid of star power, got off to a bad start and never recovered, finishing last in the NL West. They had the lowest batting average in the NL (.237); the second-highest strikeout total in the majors (1,320); and scored only 593 runs, second-lowest in the NL.
Petco's deep dimensions have gotten into the heads of Padres' sluggers since the park opened. Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko groused that fly balls that would be homers in other parks would simply die in Petco's outfield.
When Petco Park opened, then-general manager Kevin Towers joked that the Padres had made it Barry Bonds-proof, since the San Francisco Giants slugger always tormented San Diego. Bonds later quipped that the Padres had made Petco Park ''baseball-proof.'' Bonds hit his 755th homer at Petco Park on Aug. 4, 2007, tying Hank Aaron with an opposite-field shot to left-center.
Hoyer said the Padres have to do a better job of preparing minor leaguers to hit at Petco.
But he said there's the additional challenge of preparing them to hit in a good pitchers' division, mentioning Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain of the Giants, and Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
''It's hard to replicate that in the PCL or in the Texas League,'' Hoyer said. ''When you couple a very good pitching division with the hardest place to hit in baseball, you've got a double challenge. ... It's a hard division to hit. It's a hard ballpark to hit. And it's patience. When guys come up here we have to understand that it's unlikely they're going to come up in this ballpark and this division and light the world on fire. I bet it's been a while since a young prospect came up and had an incredible impact right away and never stopped hitting. It's a hard thing to find.''
That's never happened at Petco.
Slugging first baseman Anthony Rizzo, one of the three prospects obtained for Gonzalez, is a good example. After tearing up the Pacific Coast League, the Padres promoted him on June 9. He struggled and was sent down on July 21, when he was hitting only .143 with 36 strikeouts in 98 at-bats. He came back up in September and finished with a .141 average, one homer, nine RBIs and 46 strikeouts in 128 at-bats.
Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who works some Padres TV broadcasts, has said that Petco Park is a line-drive hitter's park. Hoyer agrees.
''I think for the right hitter, you've got to hit low line drives. There's not a lot of money to be made with lofted fly balls in this ballpark,'' the GM said.
Padres CEO Jeff Moorad, who's buying the team on an installment plan from John Moores, said he's ''strongly opposed'' to bringing in Petco's fences. He said the team might start more games at 5:35 p.m. to offset the marine layer that moves in from the ocean in the evening.