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Notes: Klesko comfortable again

Notes: Klesko comfortable again

SAN DIEGO -- Ryan Klesko has had a lot of big at-bats in his career, but in some respects, the past six were as important as any in his 15 Major League seasons.

Those two singles, double, two walks and lineout -- for an .833 on-base percentage and .750 batting average -- got him on the Padres' postseason roster and immeasurably enhanced his appeal for the prospects of a 16th season.

"This is the best I've felt since the first half of the 2003 season, before my first shoulder surgery," Klesko said, gearing up for his bench role as the Padres prepared to face the Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Tuesday at PETCO Park. "I finally have two healthy shoulders and no more pinched nerve in my neck. The ball is jumping off my bat again.

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"Yeah, that's definitely a nice feeling. Every at-bat I had when I came back was really important in terms of getting my timing back, tracking balls, just getting comfortable again. I think they were seeing my batting practices and how the ball's jumping off the bat, so that helped, too."

A free agent-to-be, Klesko said scouts have told him his bat speed is back to where it used to be, "and hopefully, I can play another year or two somewhere."

Klesko, who underwent surgery on his left shoulder in the spring and missed almost the entire season, and Russell Branyan will be the principal backup outfielders, with Terrmel Sledge and Ben Johnson left off the NLDS roster.

This doesn't overly concern general manager Kevin Towers, who constructed the roster along with manager Bruce Bochy with input from the rest of the staff.

Towers expects Dave Roberts, Mike Cameron and Brian Giles to play every inning in the outfield, given the breaks after Games 1 and 2 and their overall endurance all season.

"Klesko is bombing balls," Towers said. "He's certainly a weapon for us off the bench. He looks like the Ryan Klesko of a couple years ago. He had a setback with his back when he was doing his rehab assignment [at Class A Lake Elsinore], but he feels strong and healthy right now.

"He has his bat speed, and he hit a big double in Arizona against a tough left-hander, [Randy] Choate, which shows he can be effective against both lefties and righties."

Branyan has played third base exclusively since joining the Padres, but he was primarily a right fielder with the Devil Rays and is comfortable at either corner outfield spot. He'd get the first emergency call in the outfield.

Park nabs a spot: One slight surprise on the Padres' 11-man pitching staff for the NLDS was the inclusion of Chan Ho Park at the expense of such middle relievers as Brian Sweeney, Jon Adkins and Scott Cassidy.

Park is recovering from Aug. 23 surgery to stop bleeding in his lower intestine, and he has appeared in only one game since the surgery, giving up a walk and two doubles in Arizona. He was 7-7 with a 4.81 ERA in 24 appearances, 21 as a starter.

"It is a good feeling to be back with the team," Park said. "I'll do whatever they want. It is an honor."

Towers said he relied on the input of pitching coach Darren Balsley and bullpen coach Darrel Akerfelds in assessing Park's bullpen sessions.

"His stuff has been good in the bullpen the past couple weeks," Towers said, "even though the results weren't good in Arizona. He's somebody we feel, given an opportunity, can have some success -- especially if we have a long game and need a guy to give you four or five innings.

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"Chan Ho has been a big part of our team. He worked hard to get back in shape, and he's a very popular guy in the clubhouse. The players like him a great deal. From a chemistry standpoint, Chan Ho not being on the club could have been a letdown for some of the guys."

Another popular veteran, Rudy Seanez, was included on the roster for his vast experience. Seanez was 1-2 with a 5.68 ERA in eight games with the Padres following his release by the Red Sox.

Staying ready: Sweeney, who was 2-0 with a 3.20 ERA in 37 appearances, expressed disappointment, but said he was supportive of management's decision.

"These guys have been around, pitching for many years, getting the job done," Sweeney said. "We have a great pitching staff. I believe I speak for Adkins, Cassidy, [Mike] Thompson, guys who have all done the job, when I say we're behind this team 100 percent, and we'll be staying ready and prepared in case we're called on in the next series."

Sweeney, Adkins, Cassidy and Thompson will be among 35 players going to St. Louis. Adkins was 2-1 with a 3.98 ERA in 55 appearances. Cassidy was 6-4 with a 2.53 ERA in 42 appearances. Thompson, the invaluable emergency starter, was 4-5 with a 4.99 ERA in 19 games, 16 as a starter.

Also left off was Scott Williamson, who was 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA in 11 appearances before going on the DL with elbow and shoulder issues.

Pitch to Pujols? Obviously, the Padres will be handling Albert Pujols with great care during the series, trying to avoid a repeat of the three-run homer he hit against Cla Meredith to beat them in St. Louis last Wednesday night.

"If there's a situation where you have to pitch to him, you just have to execute your pitches," catcher Mike Piazza said. "We got beat by him last week. That said, anyone can make an out."

"How do you pitch to him? Say your prayers and hope he hits it to someone."

Added Clay Hensley, who will be coming out of the bullpen in this series: "I don't like the idea of putting a guy on. I think we should pitch to him -- depending on the game situation, of course."

Bellhorn over Sledge: As for the decision not to activate Sledge, who hit .229 and was 5-for-13 with two RBIs as a pinch-hitter, and to include Mark Bellhorn, Towers said the veteran's experience and versatility factored into the decision.

"Belly can play all four infield positions if needed and has postseason experience," Towers said. "We're very left-handed [offensively], and having another switch-hitter makes it more difficult for a manager in how he manages his bullpen late in a game."

Bellhorn, who has appeared sparingly over the past month, hit .190 in 253 at-bats and was 7-for-38 as a pinch-hitter with one RBI.

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

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