Headley patiently waiting for his chance
Outfielder taking swings, playing every day at Triple-A Portland
SAN DIEGO -- Even when he was hitting just .221 at Triple-A Portland, Chase Headley never once wondered if he was going to start hitting.
He did wonder, though, when it was going to start.
"It felt like an eternity when it wasn't happening," Headley said. "But I knew that it was only a matter of time. You never want that to happen, but I never doubted I was going to start hitting. The past couple of weeks, I've felt really locked in."
About the only aspect of life at the Triple-A level that continues to stump Headley, who is regarded as the top prospect in the Padres' organization, is the not-so-glamorous travel schedule of the Pacific Coast League.
"I'm getting tired of the 3:45 a.m. wakeup calls," Headley joked by phone on Saturday from Des Moines, Iowa, where the Beavers' bus stopped in the early morning after a bus trip from Omaha, Neb.
Headley might not have to worry about that much longer, as he's raised his average to .292 after a slow start. He's hitting .410 in the month of May alone, is playing well in the outfield and has cut down on his strikeouts.
As Padres general manager Kevin Towers has said, it's not a matter of if the converted third baseman turned outfielder gets recalled from Portland, but only when.
"For us, he did not have to show us anything offensively," Towers said. "We knew that he was very gifted offensive player. For us, it was more getting more comfortable in the outfield."
The Padres have been keeping tabs on Headley, who is in his first season at the Triple-A level after tearing up the Double-A Texas League in 2007 when he was named its Most Valuable Player.
Headley, who has hit three home runs and collected 15 RBIs in 130 at-bats, was a topic of discussion Friday when the Padres released center fielder Jim Edmonds and recalled Jody Gerut to take his place.
Some wondered, why not Headley?
"To be honest, Jody didn't belong here," Headley said. "In the time he was here, he was pretty dialed in. He deserved a callup before I did. When things started to pan out, it was obvious what was going to happen. It didn't bother me one bit."
As Towers has said, when Headley is finally recalled, he's going to play every day and not merely sit on the bench. That time, in Towers' estimation, is not now.
"Why not now? He's taken his average from .220 to over .300 in the last three weeks," Towers said. "I don't think it's the proper environment right now. ... If Chase Headley was to come play left field right now, he'd probably be looked on as our savior.
"At some point in time he will be here, but we didn't think it was the appropriate time right now to put him in a situation where expectations would be high, where he would have to put any added pressure on himself to turn the entire ballclub around."
Headley dismissed his slow start as the result of being down after being one of the last cuts of Spring Training when the Padres sent him to Portland to work on his defense as he made the switch from third base to left field.
"Obviously, I was disappointed," he said. "But as far as getting off to a slow start, it had nothing to do with it. I went on with it and did the best I could."
The pitching at the Triple-A level had a humbling effect on Headley, much like it does other first-year players at that level.
"The biggest thing is there's a lot more experienced pitchers in Triple-A," Headley said. "Early on, I wasn't getting a whole lot of fastballs. In Double-A, pitchers tend to come at you more. In Triple-A, guys are nibbling at the sides of the plate."
"I had to change my approach so that I was looking away a little more. I think in the long run, it's going to help me out. I'm very capable of hitting fastballs if I'm looking away. Now I can look out over the plate and handle it."
Since April 30, Headley has had six multi-hit games in a 10-game stretch, including four hits on Sunday and five on Thursday. He's also gotten much more acclimated to playing the outfield, where he rates his progress in learning the position as good.
"I think it's been really good, to be honest," Headley said. "I think that I've played it as well as I possibly can. I can still improve. But I'm pretty happy. The only real way to get better at baseball is to get reps and opportunities. It helps to be out there every day. I've been talking to some guys who have been around, and pick up on little things here and there."
While Headley has certainly had his hands full in his first month-plus in Portland, he's noticed the Padres' slow start. San Diego took a 12-24 record into Saturday's game at PETCO Park against the Rockies.
"I definitely keep track of the team," Headley said. "I don't want to sound like I'm box score hunting, but I got to know a lot of these guys in Spring Training. I'm pulling for them. I know it's obviously not how they wanted to start.
"I'm looking forward to getting a chance there. I really don't know what their plans are, but I feel like I can help out."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.