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Roberts, Still Cold, Gets Chilly Message : Boros Has a Long Talk With Infielder, Tells Him to Change His Ways. . . or Else

April 23, 1986|TOM FRIEND | Times Staff Writer

CINCINNATI — Bip Roberts thinks Pittsburgh is the pits. About a month ago, he was saying: "If the Padres send me back to Pittsburgh, I'll retire, man. I'm serious. I'll retire."

Since then, Roberts has given the Padres no reason to keep him. He has begun this season 0 for 16.

On Sunday, he asked: "Well, are they gonna keep me?"

On Tuesday, Manager Steve Boros answered: "If I had to say right now . . . yes."

But Boros is not entirely happy with Roberts, whom he keeps referring to as "that young man." First of all, Roberts--who was drafted from the Pirates this winter and who can't be sent down to the minors without first being offered back to Pittsburgh--was told to choke up and use a bigger bat. He disobeyed last Sunday, using his own bat without telling Boros why.

Secondly, Roberts keeps trying to hit deep fly balls when Boros, hitting coach Deacon Jones and first base coach Sandy Alomar keep telling him to hit ground balls to utilize his speed.

Thirdly, Roberts hasn't acted the way a 22-year-old rookie is supposed to act. He's too loose, they say. He's not intense enough, they say.

Finally, on Tuesday, just after the Padre game here with the Cincinnati Reds was called because of the cold weather, Boros called Roberts in for a cold meeting.

"He didn't get a chance to talk that much," Boros said.

Here's what Boros told him:

Shape up or you're on the bench.

You better explain to Deacon Jones and Sandy Alomar why you used that little bat.

Hit line drives or ground balls or else.

Afterward, Roberts wasn't his usual chipper self, and he left with his chin tucked in his shirt. Asked what was wrong, he only shrugged. He didn't answer his hotel phone later.

Did Boros do any screaming?

"I had a talk with him," he said.

A firm talk?

"A talk," he said.

Clearly, the Padres would prefer to send Roberts down to Las Vegas pretty soon but don't want to lose him back to Pittsburgh.

So will he stay for the season, even though he could end up in Triple A next year?

"I'm sure the Pittsburgh thing is preying on his mind," Boros said. "He doesn't think he'll be here. But he's definitely worth keeping. If he turns out to be an extra man (and not a starter), he'll still be worth keeping. He's got the tools. He can go out and play Triple A next year, but he has the kind of physical skills we're looking for in a second baseman. We're not about to turn him back to Pittsburgh.

"He's on our roster. We feel he could go out and play Triple A and be in our plans down the road. He's a switch-hitting second baseman who can play defense, who can run, steal bases. You don't turn loose that kind of talent."

His slow start was predictable. Back in February, back when he had zero lifetime at-bats, people such as Jerry Royster and Tony Gwynn said the Padres were asking too much of him, that you can't step up to the majors from Double-A on the double. It takes time.

And Roberts was so carefree about it.

The time he fantasized: "Playing second and leading off for the San Diego Padres . . . BIP ROBERTS!"

The time he fantasized: "Fernando (Valenzuela) will be screwballin' . . . I'll step in, step out, spit . . . It'll be a fastball over the plate . . . Ping!"

Some teammates didn't care for it.

"Some have let him know about that already," Boros said.

When Valenzuela struck him out twice on opening day, Jones and Alomar began increasing his private lessons. Roberts was swinging too hard. Eventually, they ordered the bigger bat so he'd force himself to chop down at the ball.

He didn't use the bigger bat.

"Quite frankly, if he doesn't want to do it our way, he'll have to sit and watch," Boros said.

"He'll listen, but then he'll slip back to his way of doing things. Part of it is frustration, because he isn't having any success. I know he's thinking: 'Hey, I hit .272 at Double-A. I can hit.' But he's got to trust us. We've seen youngsters try to adjust to big league pitching, and what we're showing him is the way to have success.

"And I told him that now. We can't have him serving as his own batting instructor and slipping back to his old ways, old habits."

Like on Tuesday. Roberts was swinging in the batting cage, and Boros twice had to say: "Choke up."

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