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Ramon Vazquez is not unhappy.
By his modest assessment, the Padres shortstop believes he is having a "slightly above-average" season – although both his bosses and peers give Vazquez higher grades.
But Vazquez is not satisfied.
"I can do better," he said recently. "But that's not what really counts.
"I wish I had one walk, 30 strikeouts, was hitting only .190 and we were 10 games over .500. I'd trade everything I might be doing if we were winning ... unless of course, I got sent down because I was doing so bad."
The thought of what he had just said brought the smallest of grins to the 26-year-old's face. Sure, baseball is a team game. But players also are judged individually.
So if there is a silver lining to the disappointing Padres season to date, it could be Vazquez – who is hitting .287, reaching base 40 percent of the time and fielding his position beyond expectations.
"I really like him," manager Bruce Bochy said recently. "He's a major league baseball player. He gives you a maximum effort every day. He's always thinking ahead. He's got great game awareness and always makes the right play.
"Ramon is a model of consistency on both offense and defense. I think he's done a great job for us. I've told (general manager) Kevin Towers that Ramon is a quality shortstop and that he's going to get better."
When asked to give Vazquez a grade for his play so far, Bochy handed out an A. Infield coach Rob Picciolo rated Vazquez at B+.
But the shortstop gave himself a C+.
"Getting on base, maybe an A-," Vazquez said. "Defense, maybe a B-. But hitting, a C. The thing is, I could be doing more to help this team right now."
But, again, it takes more than one player. On Saturday, for example, Vazquez went to his right to make a stop deep in the hole behind third. As he looked up, he saw he had the Phils runner on second caught going into third. But Vazquez's throw caught 22-year-old third baseman Sean Burroughs by surprise.
"Ramon makes a great play there and gets an error because we're young," said a teammate. "Those of us who play with Ramon every day know how good he is."
But does it matter?
The Padres are already talking about hitting the shortstop-loaded free-agent market next winter to sign a marquee player going into the opening of the downtown ballpark. Among the shortstops who could be available are 2002 American League MVP Miguel Tejada of Oakland, San Francisco's Rich Aurilia and Japan's Kazuo Matsui.
Signing one of those three could move Vazquez back to second base – and many major league scouts believe second is Vazquez's best position – unless the Padres decide Phil Nevin must stay in the infield and that Burroughs needs to find a new home.
"That stuff is out of my hands, so I don't think about it," said Vazquez. Really, I don't care where they play me as long as I'm playing because I deserve to be playing."
Vazquez came to the Padres during the 2001 winter meetings as San Diego's key acquisition in the trade that sent catcher Ben Davis to Seattle. On the day of the trade, Towers anointed Vazquez as the Padres shortstop. Then the club signed free agent Deivi Cruz, who became the regular shortstop for 2002. Vazquez didn't even start until he replaced D'Angelo Jiminez at second base in June.
With this season less than a fifth over, Vazquez has already drawn as many walks (22) as Cruz did all last year. Vazquez's on-base percentage is more than 100 points higher than Cruz's. And he's on pace to top all of Cruz's stats – except errors.
"I'm glad I'm here, because I know how tough it is to make the majors," said Vazquez, who spent seven seasons in the Mariners system before being "rescued" by the Padres.
"I look in the stands every game and give thanks. I was never a top prospect. I always did good, but I didn't think I was the type of player Seattle wanted. So I am amazed and thankful to be here."
Vazquez knows what kind of player he is. After he homered on Friday, Vazquez joked, "I don't know where that came from. You're not going to see many of those from me."
"I'm not going to hit 40 homers or steal 50 bases, maybe not 30," said Vazquez. "And I'm not going to try to do things I can't do. I learned from Henry Cotto in the minors how to concentrate on the things I can do to help a team. It was Cotto, (former Padre) Luis Lopez and Alex Cora who told me that I could be a major league player for a long time if I concentrated on my strengths."
And those are many . . . all the way down to throwing the ball across the infield. There are flashier shortstops and those with more range. But few deliver an easier-to-catch ball to first.
"Ramon's throws are always eye level, no matter where he is throwing from. It's a little uncanny," said first baseman Ryan Klesko
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