"We tried to explain to him that going down there and getting more time in the outfield is only going to make him better when he gets back up here," said Padres general manager Kevin Towers. "I think this spring really validated how good we think this guy is going to be."
Those kind words from the staff, as relayed by manager Bud Black, Towers and hitting coach Wally Joyner, certainly softened the blow of the news Headley never intended to hear this spring.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed," Headley said. "Because I feel like I can contribute at the big league level right now. It's tough when you have a good spring and you feel like you did everything you can."
Headley hit .349 in 43 at-bats with three doubles and a triple, and he led the team in home runs (four) and RBIs (14) in 23 spring games. Headley had a single in his only at-bat in Sunday's 7-3 loss to the Cubs at the Peoria Sports Complex.
Headley, the Texas League Player of the Year in 2007, proved to be a quick study in left field this spring. He was tested on a wide range of fly balls, line drives and base hits. He even threw a runner out at the plate in a game on Friday against the Brewers.
But the Padres want him to gain more experience defensively, and the only way to do that was playing on a regular basis.
"I felt like I did a good job. I felt like I did better than I expected, and I would guess that I did better than a lot of people expected," Headley said. "Was I perfect? No. I am satisfied with what I did and the work I put in. I'm not where I'll be ultimately, but for the amount of time I've had, I've done all I could have done."
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Towers was especially impressed and with how quickly Headley took to the outfield, and cited a March 5 game against the A's as evidence at how far the former third baseman had come since taking fly balls at PETCO Park in January.
In that game, Headley was tested several times in left field, including twice in the first inning when he missed a fly ball off the bat of Jack Cust with a diving attempt after getting a late jump. Later in the same inning, Headley made a nice running catch of a fly ball in the gap in left-center field.
Then in the third inning, Headley narrowly missed making a running catch on a ball hit again by Jack Hannahan, which resulted in a double. Headley made up for it later in the inning by making a diving grab in the left-field corner on Travis Buck's fly ball.
"I'd say he's probably exceeded my expectations for only being out there six weeks. I go back to that game in Oakland," Towers said. "He had a tough time with fly balls and came back and made two or three very good plays. That's the sign of a good athlete making an adjustment."
Headley said the sense of self-satisfaction that he did all he could do defensively helped make the move to the Minor League camp a bit easier, though he has every intention of finding his way back to the Major Leagues sooner rather than later.
"I was happy with the way I played. I can accept that," he said. "Everything else is out of my control. All I can do is work hard, get some games under my belt and hopefully be back as soon as possible.
"They told me I needed to play every day, and that if I was in San Diego, that wasn't going to be the case right now. They're happy with how I played and they think highly of me, is what they said. It's never a fun deal, but all I can do is get better."
With Saturday's release of Jeff DaVanon, with Headley going to the Minor League camp and with Jim Edmonds likely starting the season on the disabled list with a strained right calf, it looks like non-roster invitee Jody Gerut has not only made the team, but will start on Opening Day in left field against the Astros on March 31.
Gerut has impressed the staff all spring and is hitting .279 with three home runs and six RBIs. In Edmonds' absence, Scott Hairston will likely start the season in center field.