Padres' gamble on Gerut paying off

Padres' gamble on Gerut paying off

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Given he hadn't played in the Majors -- or Minors -- in two years, Jody Gerut might have seemed like a long shot to make the Padres' Opening Day roster when he was invited to Spring Training as a non-roster player on Jan. 27.

Nearly two months later, though, Gerut has already proven plenty. Many fans last remember his name from his time in Cleveland, where he hit 22 home runs as a rookie in 2003, and Gerut has hit this spring like he hasn't missed a day.

Gerut, 30, is batting .262 and slugging .571 in 42 at-bats through Saturday, and he stands a good chance of making the Opening Day roster even if starting center fielder Jim Edmonds is healthy. If Edmonds starts the year on the disabled list, Gerut's versatility and Major League experience at all three outfield spots makes him all the more attractive to the Padres.

"Jody's looked really good. Everyone on the staff has commented on the way he's going about things," bench coach Craig Colbert said. "Hopefully he can get back to what he did in Cleveland."

Gerut was traded from the Indians to the Cubs to the Pirates during a whirlwind 2005 campaign, and hurt his knee soon after joining Pittsburgh.

The 2006 and 2007 regular seasons were a loss.

"It was a very difficult time and it led me to think about whether or not I wanted to play, but in the end, the day would come and go, and I still wanted to play," Gerut said. "I just rehabbed every day and tried to get better. It was extremely boring, because it was Groundhog Day every day."

When Gerut finally felt healthy enough to play and signed with the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason, he had no idea what his future would hold.

"You name it," Gerut said. "After not playing for two years, there's going to be questions. Just throw a dart at a question board and you'd hit a question I had."

But almost immediately, those questions began to be answered with one crack of the bat after another. Gerut tore up the competition in Venezuela, batting .390 in 141 at-bats.

The Padres were happy to roll the dice on a player who starred at Stanford University, breezed through the Minor Leagues and owned a .263 career average with a .334 on-base percentage and .434 slugging average in the Majors before being derailed by injuries, and their gamble could pay off if Gerut makes the club.

If Edmonds is out, Scott Hairston will become the starting center fielder, which could lead to a spot in left for Gerut. The Padres would also consider playing Gerut in center to spell Hairston.

"We feel comfortable with Gerut and Callix Crabbe out there," manager Bud Black said.

Mark Thoma is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.