Padron's power leads Venezuela past PR

Padron's power leads Venezuela past PR

MARGARITA ISLAND, Venezuela -- Caracas designated hitter Raul Padron doesn't know where he will be to start the 2010 regular season, but he knows he wants to finish it on a big league club.

Last season, Padron, 25, hit .214 in five games for Oakland's Triple-A club in Sacramento and .263 with five homers and 26 RBIs at Class A Stockton. This winter for Caracas, Padron hit .276 with nine home runs in 50 games.

In 2008, he was suspended for first 50 games of the season after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance under baseball's Minor League drug program.

Padron was among several players with their eyes on the Major Leagues and their feet on the ground at Estadio Nueva Esparta during Venezuela's 5-2 victory against Puerto Rico to complete the second day of Caribbean Series play Wednesday. Padron finished 2-for-4 with a two-run home run in the second inning.

"[Padron's] been a clutch guy and he's had big hits all year long," Venezuela manager Dave Hudgens said. "I don't want to say he is a surprise, but he's come up with pretty big hits all year."

After eight round-robin games, the Dominican Republic is 2-0, while Venezuela and Mexico each have a record of 1-1. Puerto Rico has lost its first two games.

Puerto Rico and Mexico face each other in Thursday's matinee at 3:30 p.m. ET. In the biggest game of the series to date, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela face off in the nightcap at 7:30.

"We just have to go out there and win every game, and that's the way I see it," Hudgens said. "We just need to continue to play solid baseball and good defense. Two-out hits are huge and that's what wins games."

Padron and his Caracas teammates wasted little time against Puerto Rico. In the third inning, a single by Venezuelan catcher Carlos Maldonado scored San Diego farmhand Oscar Salazar to push Venezuela ahead, 3-0. Padron followed with an RBI single to extend the lead to 4-0.

It appears Maldonado's road to the big leagues will be a challenge. He hit .225 in 80 games for Triple-A Pawtucket last year with two home runs and 15 RBIs, and he has not been to the big leagues since 2007 with Pittsburgh. Maldonado, 31, has a .163 batting average in 21 Major League games.

As for Salazar, 32, he sports a .286 batting average in 114 games with the Tigers, Orioles and Padres. He hit .372 in 50 games for Baltimore's Triple-A Norfolk.

Venezuela teammate Luis Maza, who hit .300 in 100 games for the Dodgers' Triple-A team in Albuquerque last year, would love to return to the big leagues. The infielder played in 45 games for the Dodgers in 2008, but the boys in blue are loaded with infielders in '10.

In Puerto Rico's dugout, journeyman designated hitter Randy Ruiz hit a home run in the fourth for Mayaguez's first run. He finished 1-for-4, and like many, is looking to make it back to the big leagues.

A Triple-A All-Star in 2009, Ruiz hit .320 with 25 home runs and 106 RBIs for Las Vegas last year. In 33 games for the Blue Jays, he hit .313 with 10 home runs and 17 RBIs. Shortstop Angel Sanchez, who hit .305 for Las Vegas, also drove in a run for Puerto Rico.

If Ruiz makes Toronto's club out of Spring Training, he's likely headed for a role on the bench as a part-time designated hitter and backup first baseman.

"There are a lot of guys here that know how to play the game," Hudgens said. "I knew it would be close, but it looks likes this series is going to come down to the wire."

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