Healthy, happy Padilla on the right track
Hurler's new attitude reflected in results on the mound
Vicente Padilla still snarls on the mound. The scowl, the strut and the way he stares at the ground on his way to the dugout at the end of each inning are all the same as last year.
But this Padilla could not be any more different. The Rangers could not be any happier. Padilla is 1-1 with a 3.79 ERA after three starts this season. Last season, the first of a three-year, $33 million deal, he went 6-10 with a 5.76 ERA and struggled with a sore triceps muscle in his throwing arm.
"Everything is different," Rangers pitching coach Mark Conner said. "He's healthy, number one, and I think he is on a mission this year to prove that last year was a fluke. His pitching is more along the lines of what he did the year before."
In 2006, Padilla had a career year, winning 15 games and finishing with a 4.50 ERA. He signed the multiyear deal in the winter that followed but didn't live up to expectations the next season -- anybody's expectations.
He was at a loss at times. It showed.
"I think everybody has emotions, and I am no different," Padilla said. "You do get a little upset when you make a bad pitch or there is an error. You just have to let it go. I think before, I let it bother me more. What can you do about it? Nothing. You just have to keep going forward and get the next guy out. I let it anger me before."
The money also mattered.
"The contract affected me," he said. "It's a lot of money, and they wanted me to do the work, and I wanted to demonstrate that I earned that money and I was worth it. I wanted to be better than the year before. But you can't let that affect you or make you do things you don't normally do. I know that now."
What Padilla did was play while he was injured. He struggled with his command and velocity, posting a 3-8 record with a 6.69 ERA before being placed on the disabled list last June because of the triceps. His mental toughness was likely also being tested, as he was the first pitcher in Rangers history to lose eight games by June.
"He got the contract, and people were expecting big things. He tried to do that, but he was hurt," Conner said. "He finally admitted that after he had not pitched very well. I knew something was wrong. I think he wanted to show he could live up to the contract, but pitching while you are hurt is very difficult. You can't fault him for that, but you wish he would have said something sooner."
Padilla is letting his actions do the talking this season. He began training for the season in January, in Nicaragua, and said that he arrived at camp in better shape than usual. He also began a light throwing program one month before the start of Spring Training.
"This year he came in with a new attitude," Conner said. "I watch him in between innings, and he's right there patting guys on the back. I think he feels better about himself. He looks that way."
The change is noticeable. Padilla laughs and jokes with his teammates more than he did in 2007. He will never be confused as a media darling, but he is also making an effort to be more available to the press corps.
"All of the pitchers came into Spring Training with the attitude that they were trying to help each other as much as they can, and that's what they have been doing. Padilla has been a big part of that," manager Ron Washington said. "Last year, he wasn't outward. The change in him ... I think you have to speak to him, because I can't speak for him, but I just see the change."
Padilla doesn't know what all the fuss is about, saying that it's easier to be in a better mood when you are not in pain. He laughs at the notion that he is a changed man, because he didn't realize he was seen as such a bad guy in the past.
"No matter how old you are or how long you play this game, you are going to learn something," Padilla said. "You can never know it all in this game. You can learn something every day if you want to pay attention to it. I see that. I know that."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.