Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Vicente Padilla Presents Challenge to New Catcher

The worth of Rangers new starting catcher Gerald Laird will quickly become evident not so much because of his bat or defensive skills as his ability to call games -- with underachieving No. 2 starter Vicente Padilla providing the acid test.

It was not so long ago that former Rangers first baseman Rafael Palmiero -- after facing Padilla in spring training -- dubbed the 6-foot-2 fireballer as the best in the Phillies rotation, with consecutive winning seasons of 14 wins and a combined 3.46 ERA in 2002 and '03.

But while Padilla at 29 continues to wield a heavy, 96-mph fastball and potentially effective slider he has been unable to shake off the reputation that he defeats himself by overruling catchers and being overly fearful of contact and trying to be too fine.

If the Rangers are to receive their money's worth after inking Padilla to a $33.75 million, three-year contract, Laird must win Padilla's confidence, take charge of his pitch selection and teach him to trust his stuff and the defense behind him. Padilla's 15-10 record with Texas last year was good, but he has far more talent than his 4.50 ERA would suggest.

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