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After 23 HRs as a rookie, Padres seek better pitch selection, higher average from Gyorko

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PEORIA, Ariz. - Jedd Gyorko was a pleasant surprise in a mostly forgettable 2013 season for the San Diego Padres.

Gyorko not only made the team coming out of spring training, he earned the starting job at second base. He then led all National League rookies with 23 home runs and his 63 RBIs were the most on the team.

"When I was getting a good pitch to hit," Gyorko said Monday, "I wasn't missing it."

The problem was Gyorko was also swinging at bad pitches in San Diego's 76-86 season. He struck out 123 times and drew only 33 walks in 525 plate appearances. That largely accounted for his .249 average and .301 on-base percentage.

The key this spring for the 25-year-old Morgantown, W. Va., product is inserting some patience into his fearless persona.

"I think it's pitch selection with Jedd," manager Bud Black said. "The beauty of Jedd is his intent is to hit. He's an aggressive hitter. He goes into the box hitting from the first pitch. I think with Jedd, for the most part, that works.

"But I think major league pitchers will, at times, take advantage of that aggressiveness."

Black noted pitchers started throwing Gyorko more first-pitch breaking balls below the strike zone and high fastballs.

But when Gyorko laid off those pitches, he went on hot streaks.

Gyorko hit 15 of his homers over the final two months of the season. His 23 homers were four more than Bret Boone's old team record for a second baseman.

"You don't see a lot of guys put up those types of numbers in San Diego," Padres third baseman Chase Headley said, referring to pitcher-friendly Petco Park. "When you're doing that as a rookie, that's real impressive. I expect him to be a very good player for a long time."

Black acknowledged they need to find the right balance with Gyorko, whose aggressiveness is key to his success.

"Obviously, I want the batting average and on-base percentage to go up. But the power numbers were good and where they need to be," Gyorko said "I just need to continue to keep working."

Gyorko, who finished sixth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, is afforded a different mindset this spring with a roster spot assured. Instead of racing to be in top form before the first exhibition game, he's allowing himself to slowly get ready for the start of the regular season.

"I don't have to come in and give 110 per cent from Day 1," he said. "I can kind of build my way into it and make sure I'm ready for opening day."

Gyorko also impressed the Padres with his defence in 2013. He's been working in camp on regaining the chemistry with shortstop Everth Cabrera, who was suspended for the final 50 games last season for being linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

"Me and Cabby are working on our cohesiveness again, getting to where we know where each other is on the field at all times," Gyorko said. "That's important to have that up the middle."

Impressive power. Solid defence. Just cut down on the wild swings and misses, and the Padres could have something special.

"I think the complete ballplayer is in there," Black said. "When you think of Jedd, I think you can talk about his offensive skills. But I think at the same time you'll talk about his defensive skills. We feel as if we've got a very, very solid major league player with Jedd."

NOTES: Headley shed the crutches he'd been using after straining his right calf Saturday. While still limping, Headley said he was "starting to feel like a real person again." He was to undergo an MRI later Monday, but remained optimistic he wouldn't miss more than a few weeks. "We're going to be super conservative," he said. . Black said LHP Eric Stults will start Thursday's exhibition opener vs. Seattle and throw one inning. Donn Roach and Kevin Quackenbush are also scheduled to pitch. . Reliever Alex Torres, dealing with a visa issue in Venezuela, remained absent.

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