Padres improve under Williams

Considering that the San Diego Padres had for weeks been quietly removing themselves from the division race in the National League West, what was happening inside the visitors' dugout at Dodger Stadium seemed strange.

There, surrounded by a handful of writers, San Diego manager Dick Williams was receiving congratulations on what everyone said had been a fine season for the Padres. Of course to understand this tableau, you had to know that San Diego , next to the Chicago Cubs, had compiled the worst won-lost record in the National League last year.

While a certain amount of natural improvement seemed possible with Williams coming in this spring as the team's new manager, the notion that the Padres might remain close to the top well into September seemed far-fetched indeed.

''Not many people agreed with me when I said before the season started that San Diego was capable of playing better than .500 ball,'' Williams recalled. ''But I've had experience with young players before, and this team was making the same kind of progress in training camp that I saw when I managed the Red Sox in 1967. That was a club that didn't have a lot of experience, either, yet played over its head often enough to win the pennant.

''Of course you always wonder what the kid who hit .350 for you in April will do in May or June when opposing pitchers get their second look at him,'' Dick continued. ''Sometimes the bottom falls out. But individually most of our kids have played well. Sure we've been down occasionally, like right now, but so far we've always managed to bounce back.''

Reminded that San Diego had once before had a surprisingly good season under former manager Roger Craig in 1978 and then lost 93 games the following year, Williams replied:

''Under different conditions I might worry about that possibility. But because we've got so many good young arms - arms that have stabilized our pitching staff - I really don't think that could happen again.

''Basically we're seven or eight players away from being season-long contenders. But with the people we've got coming out of our farm system, we should be able to fill some of those holes ourselves. Then we've got the option of speeding things up by trading or going into the free-agent market.''

One commodity the Padres are looking for is a power-hitting first baseman with the ability to drive in a hundred runs; triggering speculation that if Steve Garvey of the Dodgers becomes available, San Diego will bid for him.

The covey of young Padre pitchers that Williams is so high on includes Tim Lollar, Eric Show, Chris Welsh, Floyd Chiffer, Luis DeLeon and Dave Dracecky.

Lollar has been one of the key factors in the team's 1982 success; he was 9-2 with a 2.74 earned-run average at the All-Star break, prompting a big controversy when he was left off the National League team, and his 14 victories still lead the staff. But the most talked about San Diego pitcher right now is Show, who started the season in the bullpen.

Since being moved into the starting rotation on June 27, Eric is 4-2 with two shutouts, one of his defeats a 1-0 loss to the Dodgers' Fernando Valenzuela. Overall Show is 10-4 with an earned-run average as a starter that so far hasn't gone above 2.55.

Show is the type who sets up hitters as though he has been around for years; keeps the ball down; throws strikes; and recently made only 79 pitches during a 3-0 shutout of the Chicago Cubs.

''My philosophy as a manager has always been pitching and defense, and let the offense take care of itself,'' Williams said. ''Basically I care everything about fundamentals and nothing about individual statistics. I hate bases on balls because there is no defense against them and because they always seem to result in a run for the opposition.

''I also don't think you can play this game and win without being aggressive - offensively, defensively, and especially on the bases,'' Dick continued. ''Any team that runs as often as we do is occasionally going to take itself out of an inning. But overall you benefit more by running than you do by always playing things safe.''

Although the Padres probably have few untouchables (other than pitchers) on their 25-man roster, it is doubtful if Williams would trade catcher Terry Kennedy, shortstop Garry Templeton, or outfielders Ruppert Jones and Gene Richards.

The fact that Williams has never stayed with one organization very long is due chiefly to a personality that becomes inflexible whenever an owner or general manager gets into areas of authority that Dick regards as his own.

Williams proved that when he quit the Oakland A's and Charlie Finley in 1973 after winning two consecutive world championships.

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