Tucson Padres: Decker confident after taste of majors

2013-07-29T00:00:00Z 2013-07-29T00:20:28Z Tucson Padres: Decker confident after taste of majorsKyle Johnson Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 29, 2013 12:00 am  • 

With one out in the bottom of the eighth inning, an excited but nervous Jaff Decker approached the plate at Petco Park for his major-league debut.

The first pitch from Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Peter Moylan was a sinker outside for a ball. And then ball two. Three. Four.

The moment the 23-year-old Decker had been working toward his whole life was about as anticlimactic as it comes. But, as Decker pointed out, he still reached base. And finally reached the major leagues.

"Walking onto the field, I've been waiting for that moment for a long time," Decker said. "It was something I'll never forget."

The next night Decker got another pinch-hit opportunity and when he walked up to the plate, Decker said Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis told him "I'll try and get you one."

The outfielder finally got one to swing at and reached first base after a fielding error by pitcher Brandon League. That would also be his last swing for San Diego as he was sent back down the next day to make room for another pitcher.

Since being optioned back to Tucson on June 22, Decker has been one of the Padres best hitters. He has the top batting average this month (.388) and manager Pat Murphy said the call up gave Decker a "jolt of confidence."

"Touching the big leagues like he did gives him some hope that 'Hey, I'm not that far away,'" Murphy said.

Decker went 0 for 2 and scored a run in the first game of Tucson's doubleheader against the Salt Lake Bees on Sunday. Tucson won 9-6.

While Decker's stay in San Diego wasn't glamorous, the fact that he reached base both times, even through pitchers' errors, shows his development this season.

"I think he's finding himself," Murphy said, "he's finding his identity with who he is as a player and realizing he's not probably a 25 home run guy yet and starting to get his average up and realize the importance of putting himself in good counts and swinging at good pitches, playing good outfield."

Decker's size and speed have him more suited to be a contact hitter than a power hitter. His shift in mentality has been evident, as Decker's batting average has improved by at least 12 points each month.

It seems Decker is finally realizing the potential that had him ranked as a top 100 prospect in 2010, according to Baseball America. The former first-round pick has the tools to be a great fielder, Murphy said, and now the change in mentality has him contributing on offense as well.

"All the work that I put in before is really paying off," Decker said. "It's just a game, go out and have fun. It's better than sitting behind a desk or having a real job."

Today

• Who: Salt Lake at Tucson

• When: 7:05 p.m.

• Radio: 1290-AM

¡Tus Padres!

Tucson 9, Salt Lake 6 Game 1, 7 innings

• Highlight: After a scoreless first inning, the Padres (56-52) exploded for nine runs and 10 hits over the next four innings. Center fielder Dan Robertson's bases-clearing triple in the second inning broke open a 1-1 game. Starting pitcher Brandon Kloess allowed two earned runs and six hits in six innings against a Bees (61-47) team that had won its last seven games. Salt Lake rallied with three runs in the final inning against reliever Tommy Layne, but reliever Roberto Lopez closed out the game and ended Tucson's three-game losing streak.

• Big number: 6: Six of Tucson's nine runs came with two outs in the inning. It was also the most runs the Padres have scored since their 11-5 win against Tacoma on July 9.

• Tonight's starters: RHP Anthony Bass (2-4, 7.45 ERA), Tucson, vs. RHP James Paxton (8-11, 5.04 ERA), Salt Lake

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