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Baseball's San Diego Padres trying to build on last year's success

Forget the 1984 World Series, in which the San Diego Padres got blasted in five games by the Detroit Tigers, mostly because they didn't have any pitchers who could go the distance. In fact, Manager Dick Williams's starters lasted just 101/3 innings overall, posting a horrible 13.94 earned-run-average. This is 1985 and the Tigers now are nothing more than an unpleasant memory. San Diego must focus its attention where it belongs -- on defending the National League West champ ionship. The Padres won the division by 12 games last year, partly as the result of a good road record, and appear to be the team to beat this season.

The three division rivals most likely to challenge the Padres -- Houston, Atlanta, and Los Angeles -- don't look that strong on paper. Furthermore, San Diego added former American League Cy Young Award winner LaMarr Hoyt to its pitching staff during the winter.

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Although Hoyt had an off year with the Chicago White Sox in '84, when he was 13-18, he is still tied for most victories by a major leaguer over the past three seasons. LaMarr is a 6 ft. 3 in., 225-pounder from South Carolina who likes to change speeds on his fastball, which is particularly effective when it tails away from right-handed hitters.

``I like to find out early what is going to work best for me and then stay with it,'' LaMarr says. ``It's something I learned from Hoyt Wilhelm [recently named to baseball's Hall of Fame] when he was my minor league pitching coach. He also told me to keep asking the umpire for a different ball in clutch situations until I get one with a high seam, because they are so much easier to grip.''

After Hoyt, Williams plans to go with a rotation of Eric Show, Mark Thurmond, Dave Dravecky, and Andy Hawkins. Show, after back-to-back years as a 15-game winner, still has the potential to pick up 20 victories some day. Thurmond's 14 victories and 2.97 ERA in '84 also suggest that he can be a key member of the pitching corps.

Dravecky and Hawkins, who were part-time starters last season but actually contributed more working out of the bullpen, have been moved into the regular rotation because of the loss of Ed Whitson and Tim Lollar.

Whitson, a free agent who won 14 games last season, got a ton of money for signing with the Yankees, while Lollar was sent to the White Sox as part payment for Hoyt. The Padres are also high on rookie right-hander Ed Wojna, even though they admit that he might improve faster if he were to spend another year in the minors.

Where the Padres have it over every other National League West team except Atlanta, which signed free agent relief specialist Bruce Sutter during the winter, is in the bullpen.

Although by his own high standards, late-inning stopper Goose Gossage had a mediocre World Series against Detroit, he did win 10 games while saving 25 more during the regular season. Gossage is a force. His fastball blurs across the plate at around 90 m.p.h.; he doesn't mind knocking hitters back on their heels with a little ``chin music''; and he really makes teams earn their runs. He hasn't had an ERA over 2.97 since 1974!

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General Manager Jack McKeon, who seems to have a feel for what the Padres need most, signed free agent Tim Stoddard to help Gossage and No. 2 bullpen ace Craig Lefferts. Largely overlooked by the media and public last season, Stoddard nevertheless contributed 10 wins and 7 saves to the Cubs' 1984 division-winning season.

The infield is basically set with Steve Garvey at first base, Alan Wiggins at second, and Garry Templeton at shortstop. Third base may be a little unsettled, although incumbent Graig Nettles, 40, returns. Nettles, who played in 124 games last season and batted just .228, may eventually end up sharing his position with Kurt Bevacqua, Tim Flannery, and newly acquired utility man Jerry Royster, depending on who has the hottest bat.

Terry Kennedy, who for some unexplained reason didn't hit for average or power last season, will do the bulk of the catching, with Bruce Bochy in reserve.

In the outfield, it will be Carmelo Martinez in left; Kevin McReynolds in center; and National League batting champion (.351), Tony Gwynn in right. However, there is a good chance that Martinez will be platooned with Bobby Brown or even Bevacqua if he doesn't hit with more consistency than he did in 1984.

As for the Padres' depth, it is obviously less impressive than Williams would like. And Dick has asked McKeon to get him at least one more established hitter.

San Diego's fans, once considered complacent and laid back, probably broke that image forever with their unbridled enthusiasm during last year's National League playoffs and World Series. The Padres' home opener was sold out by Dec. 15, and season ticket sales have been running at an all-time high.

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