Tucson Padres: Having fun translates into wins for Padres

2013-07-05T00:00:00Z Tucson Padres: Having fun translates into wins for PadresDaniel Berk Contact reporter Daniel Berk at dberk@azstarnet.com or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk. Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A little more than a week ago, with his team flying from Reno, Nev., to Colorado Springs, Tucson Padres shortstop Dean Anna did what most ballplayers do on an early-morning flight - he took a nap.

When he woke up, Anna quickly realized all the travel clothes that he had stored in the overhead compartment were missing. After a few minutes, he figured out what happened. Five teammates had taken Anna's nicest shirts and put them on themselves.

Anna marveled at the pranksters' creativity, pictures were taken and fun was had all around.

It may sound like a meaningless practical joke, and maybe it was, but it's also speaks to one of the reasons why the Padres entered Thursday night's game 47-40 and in first place in the Pacific Coast League Pacific Southern Division.

"We're having so much fun together," said Cody Decker, one of the players to steal Anna's clothes. "I was here for about a month last year and it's so easy for guys to get that salty, bitter feeling in Triple-A, thinking they should be in the big leagues. This team, you don't really get that.

"Last year, there was a little bit of that, now everyone is having a blast and we're a real tight-knit group."

Decker says the loose, fun atmosphere is a credit to first-year manager Pat Murphy.

And fun and loose equals wins for this group.

"If anyone says he's not a massive reason why we're winning, just look at Tucson's record the past two years," said Decker before Tucson's 6-5 win over Las Vegas in front of a season-high 10,950 fans at Kino Stadium. "Now in his first year, the team is doing things we've never done before and we're having a blast.

"We look forward to playing every night."

Here are a couple of other reasons the Padres are winning.

Starting pitching

The starters' statistics aren't eye-popping or record-setting, but this year's starting pitchers are doing two things that haven't been done in the team's first two years in Tucson; they're giving their team a chance and going deep enough into games to keep the bullpen fresh.

"The starters have been special," Murphy said. "They're competitive and giving us a chance and we're confident playing behind them."

The manager has employed 16 different starters this year through 88 games, because of injuries and call-ups. But, nearly everyone who is getting a chance is making the best of it.

"That's what makes it fun," Murphy said. "Guys are getting chances and they're running with it."

But every rotation needs an anchor and the Padres have that in Sean O'Sullivan. Entering Thursday's start, the righty was tied for eighth in the PCL with a 3.70 ERA and was fifth in innings pitched in 97 1/3.

"Sully has been an absolute stud," Murphy said.

Production from unexpected sources

Two of Tucson's top offensive players this season are Anna and catcher Rene Rivera, who are both headed to the Triple-A All-Star Game later this month.

Anna is a former 26th-round draft pick and hit .271 in Double-A last season. He wasn't even assured of a roster spot in Tucson this season, but is hitting .344 (fourth best in the PCL) with 26 doubles, which is tied for second most in the league.

Rivera, who turns 30 later this month, hit .226 for Triple-A Rochester (N.Y.) last year in the Twins system and hasn't been a team's first option at catcher since 2007.

He's batting .337 (one spot behind Anna in the PCL) and has brought stellar defense behind the plate.

They're not the only ones. Players who were with Anna in Double-A last season like outfielder Jaff Decker and infielder Jonathan Galvez are also having above-average seasons and have been reliable. And veterans - that any team in baseball could have had - like Brandon Allen, Jesus Merchan, Gregorio Petit and Mike Wilson have all contributed to the success.

"We have great guys that are willing to play with a purpose regardless of their status," Murphy said. "That's the nicest way to say they're not prospects. The club we're playing tonight (Las Vegas), they have seven guys that could get called up at any moment. Our position players pretty much know they're not going up right now."

Today

• What: Las Vegas at Tucson

• When: 7:05 p.m.

• TV: 1290-AM

¡Tus Padres!

Tucson 6, Las Vegas 5

• Highlight: The Padres (48-40) scored five runs in the second inning en route to their fourth win in their last five games. Starting pitcher Sean O'Sullivan didn't pick up the victory, tossing just 4 2/3 innings, but had a two-run double in the second. Leadoff hitter Jaff Decker followed O'Sullivan's double with a three-run home run, which was his seventh of the season. Tucson relievers Kevin Quackenbush, Brad Brach and Miles Mikolas combined for 4 1/3 innings, giving up just one run.

• Big number: 41: The Padres are now 41-0 when leading after eight innings.

• Tonight's starters: RHP Ryan Kelly (1-1, 2.70 ERA) vs. Matt Fox (3-2, 4.68 ERA)

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