SAN DIEGO (AP) — Rod Barajas was at his daughter’s soccer game in Del Mar on Saturday morning when general manager A.J. Preller called to say that Andy Green was out as manager of the underperforming San Diego Padres.
“I jumped in the car and came over straight to the field, and he asked me if I wanted to take over for the last eight games. And I said, ‘absolutely,’” Barajas recalled a few hours before beginning his stint as interim manager against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Green was fired about 12 hours after one of the Padres’ most embarrassing losses this season, which seemed to sum up their second-half collapse.
Barajas, a former big league catcher in his first season as bench coach, managed many of the current Padres players in Triple-A, winning three straight division titles and one Pacific Coast League title.
After signing Manny Machado to a $300 million deal and putting top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. and right-hander Chris Paddack on the opening day roster, the Padres showed promise early and were 45-45 at the All-Star break.
But they’ve played poorly since, losing Tatis — by far their most exciting player — to a stress reaction in his back in mid-August and tumbling to 69-85. The Padres have lost eight of their last nine, including an ugly, mistake-filled 9-0 loss to Arizona on Friday night.
They became the first team to change managers this season.
“We feel like we’ve got a young talented group that has a chance to be competitive,” Preller said. “We made some progress in the earlier part of season, but as the second half went on we didn’t see the team getting into a spot where we could see continual improvement.
“We feel like a different person in that chair has a chance to take a young, talented group into a different spot.”
Green was 274-366 since he was hired ahead of the 2016 season. San Diego lost 90 or more games in each of his three full years and is assured of its ninth straight losing record. The Padres missed the playoffs for the 13th straight season.
“I’m sad. I’m disappointed where we’re at right now,” Barajas said. “When I signed up, I signed up to be the bench coach this year and be on a playoff team. Obviously things have changed and I was put in this position.”
Barajas, 44, said his message to the team would be “just about getting back to who we are, what we’re about. I think what we’ve seen over the last two, three weeks isn’t the Padres, isn’t a real picture of what our character is like, and just about getting back to playing baseball, having fun, laughing in the clubhouse, the dugout. We haven’t been doing a lot of that. When you’re playing free and you’re enjoying your teammates, enjoying the game of baseball, usually you play better. That’s the message.”
Friday night’s game included 12 strikeouts, two errors by first baseman Eric Hosmer, a bullpen meltdown that led to seven runs in the eighth inning and a mental error by third baseman Machado, who didn’t attempt to tag Adam Jones as he took third on a grounder in the eighth, allowing Jones to run outside of the baseline to reach the bag.
As for Friday night’s loss, “You don’t want to react to one game or one moment, but it was indicative of what we’ve seen in the second half, the last month,” Preller said. “Overall when you look at our performance, we feel like we’re better than we’ve been playing. Andy would be the first one to say that.”
Green, 42, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Outfielder Wil Myers, who has had an up-and-down season, said the players “need to look themselves in the mirror and find ways to get better and go from there.”
He also said Barajas “is great, man. He’s been great all year. … He’s a great dude. He brings his own energy, his own methods here and it’ll be fun to play for him for eight days.”
Said Barajas: “I’m going to expect these guys to go out here and play like professionals. It hasn’t been pretty the last few days, the last few weeks. We need to get back to being what we’re all about as an organization. … Things should change.”
Barajas most likely will be on the list of candidates for the permanent job, although he said, “I’m thinking about today.”
Other possible candidates are former Padres manager Bruce Bochy, who is retiring after 13 seasons with the San Francisco Giants and still has an offseason home in the San Diego area; Joe Maddon if he is let go by the Chicago Cubs; former big leaguer Moises Alou, who is a special assistant for player development with the Padres; and former big leaguer Mark Loretta, the bench coach for the Cubs. Loretta told The Associated Press he is interested in managing.