Tucson Padres: Gale a force with pitchers; now if he could only hit

2012-07-15T00:00:00Z Tucson Padres: Gale a force with pitchers; now if he could only hitDaniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 15, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Rocky Gale has one home run in 434 career professional at-bats.

He's gone 13 games between starts this year - his third in professional baseball. And the last time he hit better than .200 was in 2010.

Yet, the 24-year-old catcher is in a spot most minor-leaguers aim for. Gale is one level away from the major leagues and has become a recent staple in the Tucson Padres' Triple-A clubhouse.

How?

"We know, as an organization, what he means to a pitching staff," Tucson manager Terry Kennedy said. "He's got cause/effect kind of thinking behind the plate. He never makes a pitcher do something he can't. Pitchers are first for him; not his hitting."

So his offense needs work, but Kennedy and Tucson pitching coach Steve Webber rely on Gale as much as any other player.

Gale has suited up for three teams this year - Class-A Lake Elsinore (Calif.), Double-A San Antonio and Tucson. The biggest chunk of playing time came in Lake Elsinore, where he had 50 at-bats and hit .180.

But, when Tucson decided to release its backup catcher Brad Davis last month, it had a lot to do with Gale. Kennedy and Webber wanted the Oregon native to work with their pitching staff, even if he didn't get a lot of starts.

To the coaching staff, it was worth having Gale in Tucson to work with pitchers on the side, catching bullpens and going over hitters' scouting reports.

For Gale, it's a perfect role. His favorite part of the game is obvious - he enjoys making pitchers better and putting them in spots to succeed.

"It's a teamwork thing," said Gale, who went 0 for 2 with an RBI in Tucson's 9-5 win over Fresno on Saturday night at Kino Stadium. "I'm competitive and I want to win. When you're focusing on that, you can forget about your failures in the past.

"When you're helping your team get out of an inning with a throw or blocking a pitch in the dirt, you still get the thrill you get if you're a big hitter."

Gale learned to catch from his dad, Paul, growing up in Yoncalla, Ore. His older brother was a pitcher and needed someone behind the plate to catch him. Paul Gale, now an area scout with the Houston Astros, coached at the high school and college levels when Rocky was growing up.

It amazed son to watch dad work with his players and form positive relationships with them. That's been the younger Gale's method since he's been old enough to catch.

"I watched him manage his clubs and he was professional and honest," Rocky Gale said about his dad. "He was there for his players when you need to be and didn't interject to just interject. That's my philosophy as a catcher."

He's had the opportunity to share his approach with a lot of teammates throughout the Padres' organization. The three levels he's played in this year are one less than last year.

In 2011, he played 27 games in High-A, 26 in Low-A, seven in Double-A and four in Triple-A.

When Gale gets transferred, which is often, he's learned not to get too comfortable in his new town.

"I usually get a hotel for three nights and then find a teammate's couch to crash on," Gale said. "I've learned to pack light. It can be interesting with all the zig-zagging, but it's fun."

As for the hitting, Gale is still working on it. He knows if he ever wants a crack at the major-league level, the batting average has to come up.

Kennedy thinks it still can.

"He won't win any batting titles, but I think we can help him improve," Kennedy said. "No one has spent a ton of time with him because of his role in the organization. I think there's lots of room for improvement there."

Today

• Who: Fresno at Tucson Padres

• Where: Kino Stadium

• When: 7:05 p.m.

• Radio: 1600-AM

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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