LOS ANGELES - During Vicente Padilla's schizophrenic tenure as a Phillies starter, after each game, the Phillies' manager was asked:
What did you think of Padilla?
It always mattered.
Padilla could be unhittably nasty; he was an All-Star in 2002 because of that talent.
He could be uncontrollably wild, especially early in games, when he often seemed uninterested in the proceedings.
He could be unconscionably selfish, throwing at batters or flipping up ugly knuckle-curves against strict orders not to.
Yesterday, he was the former.
Ryan Howard waited on a curveball and crushed it to left-centerfield for the one run Padilla surrendered in 7 1/3 innings. Otherwise, he left his former club agape, flailing.
"I guess he was pretty good. We got just four hits off him. He got a lot of us out," said shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who flied out twice and struck out on a changeup. "Padilla can be wild. He started off in the low-90s, and, as the game went on, he got stronger. When you have a good Padilla, that's what he does."
He's not just "Good Padilla" these days. It's been almost 4 years since the Phillies traded him to the Rangers, a good-riddance deal done, in part, to lighten the clubhouse. Padilla has since been excised from the Rangers franchise, cut loose in August, signed off the scrap heap by the Dodgers, where he has settled in nicely . . . and developed a more complete repertoire.
"He was throwing a four-seamer, a sinker and a cutter," said Phillies rightfielder Jayson Werth, who accounted for one-third of Padilla's six strikeouts. "Anywhere from 92 to, like, 97, that was the tops that I saw. Any of those - any pitch, at pretty much any speed - he was throwing for a strike."
Padilla certainly wasn't missing. He walked only one, Carlos Ruiz, lately the Phillies' best hitter, on his 95th and final pitch. Ruiz also singled to start the second inning.
"He was very good. He had a good sinker," said Ruiz, who as a minor leaguer caught Padilla a few times in spring training. He sees improvement: "Now he's got a good slider, and he can throw it on both sides of the plate. He threw a lot of strikes."
Werth can attest to that.
"He threw me a front-door cutter - slider or cutter, whatever you want to call it - to strike me out the first time," Werth said. "Then, he threw me a good one, away, to strike me out the second time."
Padilla doesn't live on his slider, cutter or curve. He lives on what Howard called a "firm" fastball, what others have called a "heavy" fastball - a fastball that seemed to gain mass as it hurtles toward the hitter, darting at the last moment.
"It was running," agreed Raul Ibanez, who, after grounding out in the first inning, was twice fed fastballs until the end of two ensuing at-bats, when he misjudged offspeed pitches and struck out both times.
Howard wasn't dealt with that way. Padilla leaned on his junky curveball too much, and Howard recognized it, and gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead. He also singled in the seventh.
"He did a pretty good job," Howard said.
They couldn't have been more complimentary in answering what they thought of Padilla. It's probably not the last time they'll answer those questions, either.
They'll probably face Padilla again next week.