Notes: Piazza edges toward milestone

Notes: Piazza edges toward milestone

SAN FRANCISCO -- Mike Piazza never likes to talk about his hitting when he's on a roll, not wishing to test the baseball gods. So he's been a little quiet lately in the clubhouse.

Showing that he still has snap, crackle and pop in his first season with the Padres, Piazza was in a reflective mood as he got ready to face the Giants on Thursday night at AT&T Park, recalling his first Major League hit against Mike Harkey -- "a double that could have been a triple to right-center at Wrigley Field."

His next hit would be No. 2,000 in his career, making him the seventh active player to combine 2,000 hits with 400 home runs.

"I feel comfortable at the plate," Piazza said. "I'm letting the ball travel, trusting my hands. [Padres manager Bruce Bochy] is really looking out for me. My left leg's a little sore, but that's to be expected. We're staying on top of that. Boch tells me, 'If you need a couple days, shut it down.' And that makes me want to play even more."

More than a few people in baseball figured it was over for the great catcher after he fell to .251 last season with the Mets, 60 points below his career average, with 19 homers and 62 RBIs in 113 games.

The Mets signed Paul Lo Duca, and Piazza went on the market. Surprisingly, the best opportunity arose in San Diego, and the Padres wanted him to catch. He signed a two-year contract with an option for next season, and here he is entering the last week of July with a more Piazza-like .295 average, with 14 homers and 43 RBIs in 237 at-bats, sharing the job with the younger duo of Josh Bard and Rob Bowen.

General manager Kevin Towers said on Thursday night that the club would like to have Piazza back in 2007 if money matters can be worked out. The mutual option is for $8 million, which might be too steep for San Diego's budget.

But it's a long way from October, and Piazza's concerns are with the moment.

"It's like anything," he said. "As long as it's not dead, you can bring it back with watering, positive stuff. At this point in my career, this is what I really needed. It's a good vibe here. The attitude's good. We have good young guys, a nice blend. The energy's good. The little positives are adding up.

"I feel under the radar a little, but I like that. It's the first time in my career I've had that. In New York, I was expected to do a lot -- which I enjoyed. But I had some injuries the last few years, and that gets frustrating.

"My wife last week said, 'Your attitude's good.' And she's right. Some good things have happened here."

Adios, amigo: Adrian Gonzalez spoke with Vinny Castilla on Wednesday after his buddy was released by the Padres. Castilla indicated that he probably wouldn't play again this season, but he wasn't ruling out coming back next year if something enticing comes along.

"He's a great person, respected throughout baseball," Gonzalez said. "Vinny's a guy we all adore, love greatly. He's a great ballplayer. What I'll remember is his personality, the way he came to the clubhouse with a smile on his face every day, no matter how he played the day before.

"It teaches you a lot when you're around someone like Vinny. 'This is the big show,' he'd always say. 'There's no reason to be sad or mad because you had a bad day before. Today's a new day.'

"He really helped me when things were going bad early in the season. I don't know if I'd have gotten out of that hole without him. I won't see his smile every day, but I'm still going to keep in touch with him."

Bard, Muser out: Bard will be unavailable on Friday night as he serves his one-game suspension for disputing balls and strikes calls on June 25.

Bench coach Tony Muser also is sitting out Friday night's game, serving his one-game suspension for leaving the dugout in an argument last Sunday at PETCO Park.

Road bashers: The Padres opened this 11-game road trip against three National League West pursuers leading the league in road batting average at .287. They'd produced 10 or more hits in 10 of their previous 14 road games.

Dave Roberts was given the start against Giants southpaw Noah Lowry in the series opener even though Eric Young, his occasional platoon partner, was 4-for-5 against Lowry. Roberts came into the game batting .353 against lefties, compared to .280 against right-handers.

Johnson rehab: Outfielder Ben Johnson, sidelined since July 5 with a strained left shoulder, is due to begin his rehab with Triple-A Portland at Las Vegas on Friday.

"I'm really looking forward to getting back out there and playing," Johnson said. "I hate sitting around watching."

Coming up: Jake Peavy (4-9, 4.78 ERA) tries to break out of his perplexing slump when he faces the Giants' Matt Cain (6-6, 4.90) on Friday night at AT&T Park at 7:15 p.m. PT.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.