BOSTON -- Wheaton College baseball coach Eric Podbelski knew he had a good one in Padres outfielder Chris Denorfia the first time he saw him, even if he was far from a finished product when he first arrived at the Division III school located in Norton, Mass.
"Chris came to us a very good athlete. He needed to get stronger and continue to play and figure things out," Podbelski said. "Chris was a shortstop, as many team's best athletes are. Shortstops, I believe, are born, not made -- and he didn't look like a shortstop.
"His toolset best fit the outfield. It was simple to see."
So Podbelski moved Denorfia into the outfield, where he stuck. He's been there ever since and now, at age 32, Denorfia has not only found a niche with the Padres, but appears to be getting better with age.
If you ask Denorfia for a list of coaches who have influenced him, Podbelski is at the top of that list.
"How he cares about baseball and treating guys the right way. ... He's a pretty special coach," Denorfia said.
It all started for Denorfia at Wheaton, a school that doesn't give athletic scholarships. Denorfia arrived there in 1999 when the school was one year removed from starting and had played a junior varsity schedule for one season.
Denorfia, who is the school's leader in career hits (264) from 1999-2002, needed some refinement once he arrived at Wheaton, and not just a move to the outfield. Podbelski helped him with his swing, too.
"Like a lot of kids coming out of high school, Chris was very pull happy and didn't do well with offspeed pitches," Podbelski said. "He had some holes in his swing, though he made up for it by being as good as he was. He needed to become a little more of a complete hitter."
One of Podbelski's favorite stories about Denorfia came during his senior season, at a time when some professional baseball scouts were starting to take interest in him.
"It's kind of your classic, small college story," Podbelski said. "As a senior, Chris was beginning to garner interest from Major League scouts. The scouts had called me one day before a mid-week game to say they were coming to see Chris. But Chris had a senior seminar that he couldn't get out of. He called to say that he would be late to the park.
"So Chris shows up to the park, he's out of breath, he's tucking in his jersey and heads to the cage to get loose. We insert him in the game after it started and he hits a home run to center field and then a triple to right-center. That always sticks out in my mind."
Podbelski is proud of what Denorfia has accomplished and that he still stops by the school and keeps in contact with those who knew him back when.
"Like all the people here at Wheaton, everyone takes a great deal in pride that someone like Chris, from a small college, has made it," said Podbelski, who has been the coach at Wheaton College since 1996. "He wasn't a high pick in the Draft. But he does everything pretty well, has a great makeup, loves to play baseball and is competitive and determined. His makeup and intangibles have allowed him to carve a Major League career."
Denorfia, who grew up in Connecticut and still makes his home there, considers himself the lucky one, for all that he learned while at Wheaton College.
"It's something special what coach Podbelski has done there," Denorfia says. "Two years before I went there, it was a JV program. When I left, it was a powerhouse. What he's able to do with no money … what he's selling is very impressive. It's very easy to buy into."
Gyorko will test groin prior to Friday's game
BOSTON -- Jedd Gyorko missed his 23rd consecutive game on Thursday, the result of a nagging right groin strain that won't go away and won't heal at the rate the rookie second baseman wants.
Gyorko has kept himself busy this week at Fenway Park by taking batting practice and ground balls. He has run in the outfield to test the groin and he continues to get treatment from the training staff.
At this point, though, Gyorko just wants to play.
"You still want to watch as much as you can, but it's get pretty old sitting and watching the game every night," Gyorko said on Thursday.
There could be some clarity to his situation soon enough, though.
Gyorko is scheduled to test the groin more this weekend during the Padres' series against the Nationals by running and seeing how the groin responds. If that goes well, the team will examine the groin on Monday when the Padres return home.
"When we get back, we'll test it to see where we go," Gyorko said.
If all had gone according to plan, Gyorko might have been playing Thursday against the Red Sox, though he had a setback in his first Minor League rehabilitation game on June 26 with Double-A San Antonio, as he felt his groin grab as he stretched a single into a double.
Gyorko has been on the disabled list since June 10 and hasn't appeared in a game since June 9, when he suffered the injury running the bases in Colorado.
Manager Bud Black said that Gyorko will need a Minor League rehabilitation stint once he gets cleared to play, though it's not so much to get his timing down at the plate.
"He needs to play in a game to see how the leg is," Black said.
Black hopes Cabrera's return will boost offense
BOSTON -- The Padres entered Thursday's game against the Red Sox on a five-game losing streak, a funk that's been permeated by a notable offensive slide.
In their last five games, the Padres have scored five runs, including one in Wednesday's 2-1 loss against the Red Sox.
There's help on the way, though.
On Friday, the Padres will reinstate shortstop Everth Cabrera from the disabled list. He's missed the last 17 games with a strained left hamstring. Manager Bud Black has called Cabrera "arguably the team's MVP" and he hopes his return can provide a spark the team needs.
"He was playing extremely well, he was a catalyst," Black said. "He was very instrumental is us climbing over .500. His on-base percentage, his defense have both been so solid. His stolen bases, you can measure just statistically what he's meant to us."
Cabrera was hitting .305 with a .382 on-base percentage and a National League-best 31 steals when he landed on the disabled list.
Down four position players -- second baseman Jedd Gyorko, first baseman Yonder Alonso, center fielder Cameron Maybin and shortstop Everth Cabrera -- the Padres don't have much in the way of depth. And it's showed recently, as it's been difficult to give position players a breather in this stretch.
"When you're not scoring, things look a little flat," Black said. "We're playing hard, we're just not scoring runs in the last five games."
The Padres will need to make a roster move Friday when Cabrera joins the team. The Padres have been carrying 13 pitchers, and there's a good chance they'll reduce that number to 12 in order to add a player to Black's bench mix.
• Outfielder/first baseman Kyle Blanks was out of Thursday's lineup as the team wanted to give him a day to rest his sore left heel. Will Venable returned after missing three games with a sore left hamstring.
• Asked which of his players he would endorse for a spot on the NL All-Star team, Black indicated that Cabrera was his choice.