MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Headley looking forward to San Diego return

Headley looking forward to San Diego return

NEW YORK -- When Chase Headley trots out to third base for the Yankees on Friday night at Petco Park against his old club the Padres, he will have a strange sense of déjà vu.

Headley was drafted by the Padres and had his best season for them, but the environs have changed since he was traded to the Yankees almost two years ago.

The manager, the owner and most of the roster are different. Like Headley, his friends and former teammates are scattered around the Major Leagues. A smattering still remain.

"[Andrew] Cashner, [Tyson] Ross and [Alexi] Amarista," Headley told MLB.com in an interview recently at Yankee Stadium. "But that's about it."

Headley hasn't stepped foot in Petco since his last game there against the Mets on July 20, 2014. The Padres went on the road the next day, and Headley was traded to the Yankees. That offseason, he signed a four-year, $52 million free-agent contract to stay in pinstripes through 2018.

Headley's grand slam

Headley has a house in the New York area now, but continues to spend his winters in his hometown of Nashville, Tenn.

"I haven't been back to San Diego," Headley said. "I got traded when I was on the road. My wife went back to San Diego and did all the moving. That was the last time I was there."

That's why it's difficult for Headley not to look squarely in the rearview mirror as he heads back to San Diego.

"It'll be interesting," Headley said. "Of course, I'm excited to go back. Obviously, a huge part of my life was spent there. That's where I grew up, made the big leagues, stayed in the big leagues, had my first hit. It's going to be special.

"Some guys go back and it's essentially the same team, but that's not the way it's going to be."

Headley had his best season with the Padres in 2012 with a .286 batting average, 31 homers, 115 RBIs and an .875 OPS. Because of numerous injuries, he hasn't come close to matching those numbers since.

This season, Headley had an awful start, hitting .150 with no homers and just a pair of RBIs in his first 19 games. Management fretted, but general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi stuck with him.

They were rewarded when Headley came out of the slump in May, hitting .298 in his next 26 games. Overall, he's raised his batting average 101 points to .251 heading into the rare three-game series for the Yankees this weekend in San Diego.

On Wednesday against the Rangers, Headley hit his fifth homer of the season in a game the Yankees came from behind to win, 9-7, with six runs in the bottom of the ninth.

Headley's solo home run

On Thursday, in a 1-1 tie, Headley opened the ninth with a walk and eventually came scampering home to score the winning run on a passed ball.

Headley on walk-off victory

Girardi and Cashman have tinkered with the lineup this week, resting Alex Rodriguez against right-handers as they try to get something going. The Yanks are 39-39 as they near the halfway mark and are eight games out in the American League East. But they are still in contention for a Wild Card spot, only three games back. This period before the July 11 All-Star break is critical, and further contributions from Headley are essential.

"We think we're better than this, but at some point you are what your record is," Cashman said earlier in the week. "We're pushing some buttons to make us better than this, but people have to take control also or lose some opportunities."

Headley's one of those players who have seized the moment, Cashman said.

"In Headley's case he's turned it around, thankfully," Cashman said. "If not, we're forced to make some tough decisions. None of us like to do it, but that's what you're supposed to do."

Headley is 32 now and in his 10th season. Aside from last year's AL Wild Card Game loss to the Astros, Headley hasn't had the experience of a sustained run in the postseason.

Headley's diving catch

The Padres never made it there during Headley's tenure. They were eliminated on the last day of both the 2007 and '10 seasons, the latter in San Francisco against the Giants.

Headley laments the way the 2010 season ended. The Padres led the NL West almost all year, but suffered through a 10-game losing streak that began on Aug. 26. That was the difference.

Headley thought the Padres were on the cusp of better things to come. Adrian Gonzalez was the first baseman, Heath Bell the closer. Clayton Richard, Mat Latos and Jon Garland anchored the starting rotation. But it wasn't to be.

"Oh, yeah, we had some good young players coming up, guys were maturing," he said. "Obviously, it was disappointing not to make it that season, considering we were leading the division almost all year. The next year a lot of changes were made and we couldn't continue it."

Gonzalez was traded to the Red Sox and Bell went to the Marlins as a free agent. Soon enough it was Headley's turn to leave. Now he's coming back and that's stirring up a lot of memories.

"I've gotten to play with a lot of good teammates and a lot of people who have done a lot of great things," he said. "I'm really looking forward to being back."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.