DENVER -- This is when Padres manager Bud Black's patience gets tested.
Carlos Quentin is back on the active roster. He provides a much-needed professional bat for the middle of San Diego's lineup.
Black, however, has to avoid the temptation of expecting too much too quickly. He has to make sure he takes every precaution to keep Quentin healthy.
It's a balancing act for the manager of a team that is the most hitting-challenged in the National League.
After starting three games in his first four days off the disabled list, Quentin was on the bench at the start of Saturday night's 8-5 victory against the Rockies at Coors Field.
But as the Padres saw what was a 6-1 lead at the end of three innings get reduced to a 6-5 advantage at the end of sixth, Quentin got the call with two out and a man on against Chris Martin in the top of the seventh. He went down for a sinker away, yanking it into the left-field stands for a take-a-deep-breath two-run home run.
"He adds a different dynamic to our lineup," said Black. "He's so dangerous. No doubt about it. His track record as an offensive performer speaks for itself. He's a guy the opposing team, opposing manager, has to think about."
Quentin is a guy Black has thought about a lot. He was out the final seven weeks of last season for surgery on his right knee -- the third time that knee was operated on -- and then suffered a bone bruise of his left knee making a diving catch attempt in Spring Training, and didn't join San Diego's active roster until the club went to Cincinnati this week.
"He's our best offensive player," said Black. "For us to get where we need to be, we need him healthy."
And that's the juggling act Black faces right now. He started Quentin on Tuesday and in the second game of a doubleheader Thursday in Cincinnati. Quentin was back in the lineup on Friday to face Rockies lefty Jorge De La Rosa and was on the bench at the start on Saturday. He is expected to start Sunday, thanks to an off-day on Monday.
Right now, Black is looking at putting Quentin in the lineup four or five days a week.
"We'll monitor it, but we also will take him out for defense to get him off his legs, and pinch-run for him at times," said Black. "We need him as much as we can. He talks the pressure off the other guys."
And there is pressure on the Padres' offense. They are 21-23, managing to stay afloat in the NL West. It, however, hasn't been easy.
San Diego went into Saturday last in the NL in batting average (.219), runs scored (125) and slugging percentage (.342).
And the middle of the order? Well, the No. 3-4-5-6 spots in the lineup combined are last in the Majors in average, slugging percentage and RBIs. Three players counted on for run production weren't even hitting .200 -- Chase Headley (.198), Yonder Alonso (.197) and Jedd Gyorko (.150).
And it has been a mix-and-match. The only two players who have started more than 15 games at a spot in the lineup are Seth Smith, who leads the team with a .333 average and has started 23 games in the No. 3 hole, and Everth Cabrera, who has made 30 starts at leadoff, but has hit second the first five games of this road trip.
Gyorko leads the team in starts at both the cleanup spot (14 games) and fifth spot (13 games), but for the eighth time this season, he was in the sixth spot on Saturday. And Alonso leads the team with 13 starts hitting sixth and eight starts hitting seventh, but he hit fifth on Saturday for the eight time.
A healthy Quentin can make the Padres feel better about the lineup.
"He is a guy who has done it," said Black. "He's been a consistent offensive performer."
In four years with the Chicago White Sox (2008-11), Quentin hit 107 home runs and drove in 320 runs.
"I was part of all kinds of lineups," he said. "I played with young players who has enormous talent [in Arizona] and I played with Hall of Famers. With the White Sox, I had guys like Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye to help me establish myself. I see myself doing that for [San Diego]."
Quentin wants to do it on an everyday basis, and he is anxious to get that opportunity again, but he also understands the patience Black is preaching.
"It's smart right now to make sure [the knee is healthy] with the idea I'll have a chance to get back out there [on a regular basis]," said Quentin. "It's difficult. You miss time and you want to get back and produce."
The Padres certainly need him to do just that.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less