Black likes feel of new team

Padres' new skipper likes his team's chances

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a man who knows Bud Black inside out, is convinced the Padres have the right guy at the helm as they embark on their quest for a third consecutive National League West title in 2007.

"Bud's awesome," Scioscia said of the Padres' new manager, who was his pitching coach for seven memorable seasons in Anaheim. "He's ready. His communication skills are off the charts. He has a great feel for the game and for people.

"I know a lot of people have questions about a pitcher becoming a manager, but Bud has been a student of the game beyond pitching. We spent hours and hours talking about the game. I could see it in the past few years, how he was asking more and more questions about the whole game. It was as if he was preparing himself. And that's Bud. He's always prepared.

"I don't think the Padres could have made a better choice."

Having focused on the craft of pitching his entire adult life, Black likes the shape and feel of the staff he inherited from Bruce Bochy. He likes it even more with the prospect of the artist with the Hall of Fame resume, Greg Maddux, coming aboard to offer innings, expertise and presence.

With 333 wins claimed across two full decades of pitching in the National League, Maddux is by all accounts as down-to-earth and accessible as legends come.

Young Padres starters Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Clay Hensley all have talked about Maddux with reverence in the past, and all three can't wait for Feb. 15 and the opening of Spring Training in Peoria, Ariz.

"From what I've heard of Greg," Black said Wednesday morning as the Padres were tying up loose ends before formally announcing Maddux's signing, "he's a tremendous student of the game, and just his insights will help not only me, they'll help everybody.

"They'll help our coaches, help the players. I'm going to obviously pick his brain, hopefully daily."

Having once been in the same position as Peavy, Young and Hensley as a young southpaw with the Royals in Kansas City, Black has first-hand knowledge of how deeply a veteran such as Maddux can influence a young staff.

"From what I've been told," Black, a first-time manager, said, "I think he's taken that role on a little bit more in the last [few] years, as far as spreading his wisdom to the younger players.

"For years he was with [Tom] Glavine and [John] Smoltz and [Denny] Neagle and [Steve] Avery, [Charlie] Leibrandt, guys who were veteran pitchers in their own right. But where he is now, he has that ability to teach and mentor young pitchers."

Black was part of a dominant staff that drove the Royals to the 1985 World Series championship at the expense of St. Louis, the highlight of a memorable Major League career.

Seventeen years later, Black found himself leading another tremendous staff as Scioscia's left-hand man with the 2002 World Series champs from Anaheim.

"As a catcher, I could see when a pitcher was having mechanical problems," Scioscia said. "Bud was able to understand exactly what the problem was and break it down on the spot. That's invaluable."

Black, who will work in concert with highly respected pitching coach Darren Balsley, is enthused not only about his rotation but his deep and resourceful bullpen. It features another potential Hall of Famer closing games at the back end.

"It's nice at 2:30 [p.m.] when you walk in the clubhouse and you see Trevor Hoffman, you see Maddux ... we were fortunate in Anaheim and I've been fortunate enough to play with a number of great character guys."

Black has seen what a great closer can do for a team's psyche, having played with the late, great Dan Quisenberry in Kansas City and coached Troy Percival and Francisco Rodriguez in Anaheim.

Black also alluded to the quality arms he can call on in the seventh and eighth innings, the likes of Cla Meredith -- a near clone of Quisenberry -- and Scott Linebrink.

"I've been fortunate to be with good bullpens and good closers," Black said. "You look at Trevor, look at what Linebrink has done, and Meredith last year was phenomenal ... it's a nice bullpen."

Black said he's still getting caught up on Padres position players. He recognizes the need to fill holes vacated by Josh Barfield at second base and Dave Roberts in left field, with Todd Walker -- assuming he accepts salary arbitration -- and Terrmel Sledge the leading candidates to play those positions, respectively.

There's also the likelihood that Josh Bard and Rob Bowen will be given larger roles behind the plate with Mike Piazza expected to sign a free agent contract with an American League club.

"From what I hear," Black said of Bard and Bowen, who apprenticed under Piazza in 2006, "they're two fellows who do a great job with the pitching staff. They want to catch. Their main priority, to me and the Padres, [is] handling that staff. Pitching first, offense second."

Comfort is provided, Black added, by productive regulars Adrian Gonzalez, Khalil Greene, Mike Cameron and Brian Giles as well as the promise of new third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, acquired from Cleveland along with pitcher Andrew Brown for Barfield.

Black has been in contact with fellow pitching coaches and recognizes that he is carrying a banner for them, following in the footsteps of the likes of Bob Lemon, Roger Craig, Tommy Lasorda, Dallas Green and Larry Dierker -- pitchers who succeeded as managers.

"I think there's a standard there -- it's like, `Hey, don't let us down,'" Black said, grinning. "I'm not looking at this as a pitcher manager. This is about a guy hopefully leading a team to win games."

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