YUMA, Ariz. — Around the Padre clubhouse, pitcher Luis DeLeon has acquired the nickname Monster.
DeLeon said he can't figure out why. Goose Gossage says you can see the reason by looking at DeLeon.
"Maybe they think I'm too ugly," DeLeon said. "We have Bobby Brown, Craig Lefferts and Goose. They're ugly, too. I don't know why they call me Monster."
In a sense, DeLeon has created a monster for Manager Dick Williams. Based upon the last three seasons, Williams does not know which DeLeon to expect in 1985.
Will it be the DeLeon who saved 15 games in 1982 and 13 games in 1983? Or will it be the injury-plagued DeLeon who didn't have even one save in 1984?
The former would be a valuable asset to the 1985 Padres. But the latter probably would be out of a job.
"He's been throwing the heck out of the ball so far," Williams said. "Then again, he played winter ball. As soon as we get into games, we'll be able to tell a lot more about him."
Williams already has selected eight men for his pitching staff--LaMarr Hoyt, Eric Show, Dave Dravecky, Mark Thurmond, Andy Hawkins, Gossage, Lefferts and Tim Stoddard.
DeLeon and Greg Booker are the top candidates for the final two spots. But competition is expected from Ed Wojna, Ray Hayward and Bob Patterson.
"I know I'm going to make the club here," the 26-year-old DeLeon said. "But I have to work like a minor-leaguer trying to make the club. No matter what happens this year, I have to prove that my arm is well. A lot of people know that I can pitch in the big leagues. Now, I have to prove it to them again."
DeLeon proved little in 1984.
Twice he was sidelined for more than a month with elbow tendinitis. Then, just when he appeared ready for the National League Championship Series, he cut himself on a razor while reaching into his wife's make-up kit during the final week of the regular season.
At the time, Williams needed to cut either DeLeon, Booker or Greg Harris to meet the 25-man playoff roster limit. DeLeon was the one.
"It was real frustrating," he said. "Even when we went to the playoffs, I had nothing to do. I was ready to throw batting practice. They wouldn't even let me do that. That was even more frustrating."
Just as frustrating was what happened when DeLeon did pitch last season. He allowed 12 home runs in 42 innings and had an earned-run average of 5.48.
"Oh, man, let me tell you about last year," DeLeon said. "There were a couple of times when I went to the mound and said, 'Please, no home runs today.' Then, I'd go to the mound and the first guy up would hit a home run."
One home run by Houston's Mark Bailey in August was particularly frustrating to DeLeon.
"When I went to the mound against Bailey, I wasn't even thinking about home runs," DeLeon said. "Then, (former pitching coach) Norm Sherry yelled, 'Don't give up any home runs.' Why did Norm tell me that? The first pitch, there it went. I just put my hat down over my eyes."
DeLeon says his major problem in '84 was that he was unable to effectively throw his favorite pitch--the slider--because of the tendinitis. And when he did throw the pitch, he often took something off it.
"I didn't have the same speed on the ball as I do now," he said. "When I hang a slider or curve, those are going to go out of the park. They don't hit too many home runs off my fastball or change up.
"Hitters could see my slider real well last year. Guys like Pedro Guerrero came up to me and said my slider wasn't as fast as before. I told them that I knew about it. My elbow was bothering me."
DeLeon said the elbow has been fine so far this spring. However, in 15-minute stints of pitching batting practice, he has been throwing only three or four sliders. He doesn't plan to cut loose at all until exhibition play begins next week.
"I think that is good judgment on his part," pitching coach Galen Cisco said. "The arm is easier to reinjure with a breaking ball. It's not (thrown) with a natural motion. There is a lot of time left in spring training. There is no need for him to throw the slider yet."
Cisco agrees that DeLeon has been throwing well this spring, however, he says DeLeon might be throwing too hard, if anything. And the Padres certainly don't want a repeat of 1984 in that regard.
In the team's first intrasquad game last spring, DeLeon was getting battered around. Teammates began to tease him, so he tried to throw harder. The problem was, his elbow was hurting. The tendinitis had begun.
"When I first felt something in my arm, I kept throwing," DeLeon said. "There was no reason for me to do it. I kept trying to see if my arm would get better, and it didn't. I shouldn't have thrown as much as I did last year."
But DeLeon knows that if he tries to overthrow this year, he'll be a Monster will a monstrous problem on his hands.