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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

On first night, phenom Rizzo makes Padres execs look good


SAN DIEGO -- Everyone wanted to know Thursday afternoon how Anthony Rizzo was feeling before becoming the latest phenom to make his major-league debut.

Nervous? Anxious? Excited?

Did he sleep? Did he eat? Did he dream?

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Thing was, as young Rizzo unpacked his Fisher Price shaving kit and big man's bat, those were far better questions for the guy who engineered his acquisition.

Jed Hoyer is 37 and in his second season as Padres general manager, and all he has riding on Rizzo is a big chunk of the future of the ballclub, and his reputation (short-term, at least) as a baseball executive.

So maybe careers and franchises aren't made or broken with one major deal (though Hoyer's previous employers, the Red Sox, might have argued otherwise for, oh, nearly a century after trading Babe Ruth). But with local hero and magnum force Adrian Gonzalez, there never was going to be any underestimating the importance of the trade Hoyer brokered last Dec. 6.

"I think these are fun nights," Hoyer was saying before Rizzo made him look like a genius on Night One. "When I was with Boston, some of my most memorable nights were when guys you drafted and developed came up.

"I don't know if it's anxious, nervous or excited."

By the end of the Padres' 7-3 lashing of the Nationals, mark him and Rizzo both down for that last one.

In his first at-bat, Rizzo, was punched out by plate ump John Hirschbeck on a full-count Livan Hernandez heater (if that's what you call an 82 mph offering) that appeared inside.

Yeah, welcome to The Show, kid.

In the fifth ... he crushed a triple off the left-center field wall and scored.

Then he refused to bite on a couple of close pitches from reliever Sean Burnett in the sixth and drew a full-count walk, helping move things along in San Diego's three-run inning.

Then, another full-count walk when he refused to fish on a 99 mph fastball from Henry Rodriguez in the seventh.

No pressure: just try to fill the void left by Adrian Gonzalez. Yet in his MLB debut, Anthony Rizzo provides San Diego a spark. (AP)  
No pressure: just try to fill the void left by Adrian Gonzalez. Yet in his MLB debut, Anthony Rizzo provides San Diego a spark. (AP)  
Talk about an appropriate backdrop, too: Gonzalez was off playing with the big boys in Yankee Stadium on another Boston-New York night as Rizzo's story began.

The former Padre is raking in Boston, leading the AL in RBI (53), total bases (142), hits (84), third in batting average (.335) and tied for fifth in runs (40).

The former Red Sox farmhand has noticed.

"I watch him all the time," Rizzo said. "That span when he hit six home runs in six games ... I watched the videos of his swing. He's the game's top player, the top first baseman. He's having a great year. I definitely watch him."

As the Padres wobble following last year's stunning 90-win summer, they're last in the NL West, and in the past few weeks, frustrated fans increasingly were clamoring for Rizzo's arrival.

Even as Rizzo was scorching Pacific Coast League pitching in Tucson (.365 average, .444 on-base percentage, .715 slugging percentage, 16 home runs, 63 RBI and 42 runs scored), Hoyer was determined to protect him. Initially, the GM didn't project Rizzo making an impact until 2012.

But as Rizzo pushed, plans changed. The fact that the calendar had turned to June, likely saving the Padres a bundle in future arbitration costs as Rizzo won't qualify as a Super Two after 2012, surely didn't hurt either.

Finances aside, Hoyer's reasoning was sound. Last thing the kid needed as the Padres flopped in April and May was to be yanked up to the majors and have this year hoisted onto his back. That'll happen soon enough.

At 21, he's the same age as Eric Hosmer, the first-round pick (2008) who joined Kansas City in early May. And though Hosmer didn't debut until May 6, he still led all AL rookies in May with 28 hits and 12 runs scored.

The Padres are not drawing up any specific blueprints for Rizzo. If he can make an impact like Hosmer, all the better. Especially since the NL West is a pillow fight this year, and the Padres, despite falling as far as 11 games under .500 two weeks ago, have pulled to 29-35 and within 6½ games of first-place San Francisco.

And with Buster Posey out for the season, the Giants are no lock.

Beyond that? For a franchise in dire need of credibility with its fans and riches in its farm system, it is imperative that Hoyer and his top lieutenants -- including Jason McLeod, who came from Boston with Hoyer -- strike gold in the Gonzalez deal.

In Rizzo, right-hander Casey Kelly (pitching well at Double-A San Antonio) and outfielder Reymond Fuentes (still at the Class A level), they're confident they did.

So yes, Hoyer said, knowing this, the excitement was tempered by the sobering realization of the magnitude of Thursday evening.

Though, Hoyer noted, it would have been a whole lot more sobering had the Padres dealt Gonzalez prematurely when they still had, say, three more years to control him.

"But 2012 was going to happen without Adrian Gonzalez," Hoyer said. "I'm not saying that to minimize the importance of the deal.

"The deal was very important for the future of this franchise. If the players don't pan out, then that leaves holes where we thought we could fill them."

In an auspicious debut, following a day that started with him and his folks shopping in the Padres' Petco Park gift shop, Rizzo left them wanting more.

"The thing that stood out for me was, he looked as though he belonged on the field," manager Bud Black said. "He looked poised. Composed. He had some good at-bats. And he knocked the heck out of one."

That he did ... against a pitcher, Hernandez, whom he watched in the 1997 World Series while growing up back home in Florida.

When he was 8.

"Awesome," Rizzo said. "A dream come true. Standing in the box, I felt so comfortable."


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