Stairs embraces pinch-hitting role

Stairs embraces pinch-hitting role

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Veteran Matt Stairs -- who is here in camp, trying to win a job as a pinch-hitter for the Padres -- has been forced to change his routine each day when he shows up to the clubhouse.

"Last year, I didn't even look at the lineup when I came to the ballpark," Stairs said of his final season with the Phillies.

That's because Stairs was almost exclusively used as a pinch-hitter, a role he's worn well during his Major League career. He's here in Peoria on a Minor League contract tying to win the same job with the Padres.

Before a determination is made on that, though, he's had to check the lineup each day to see if his name is in it. So far, Stairs has been the starting designated hitter in two of the Padres' first three games of spring.

On Saturday, Stairs went 0-for-3 in the Padres' 7-4 loss to the Mariners.

Stairs is a career .268 pinch-hitter with 19 home runs. Better still, he has a career .377 on-base percentage coming off the bench. Those were certainly factors that led to the Padres signing him.

It's early, but Stairs, who came to camp 32 pounds lighter than he was at the end of the regular season, looks like he could well win a job on the bench. If he does, among other things, it will give him a shot at baseball's record books.

Stairs is one home run shy of tying Cliff Johnson for the most pinch-hit home runs (20) in Major League history. Also, if he makes the Padres' roster, Stairs will be joining his 12th Major League team.

The modern-day record of 12 teams is shared by pitchers Mike Morgan and Ron Villone.

Stairs, 42, thinks that part of the reason he's been successful as a pinch-hitter -- which is considered one of the toughest jobs in baseball -- is because he's embraced the job.

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"I really, really enjoy pinch-hitting," said Stairs, who learned the ropes of pinch-hitting from watching former teammate Lenny Harris. "I think it's very important to have a pinch-hitter who has a good idea ... who will take the walk, who has good power, who can change the game around with one swing of the bat."

That didn't necessarily mean mimicking what Harris did, copying his approach and how he prepared for an at-bat. Stairs had to devise that plan all on his own.

"My approach is a lot different than a lot of guys," Stairs said. "These guys look at film the whole game and take 100 swings during the game. Me? I sit there and watch the game. If I'm called upon, I walk up to the on-deck circle and use the crowd and use the adrenaline of who I'm facing to get loose."

Why not take a few cuts in the batting cage to get ready?

"My problem is I've found when I go into the batting cage, I waste too many bullets in there," Stairs said. "I want to waste them on the field."

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