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Southwest flies to Portland, 20 times a day. There are plenty of seats available this week. Count on Kevin Kouzmanoff being in one of them and, three hours later, being free to move about the country as a minor leaguer.

Look, the state of Padres baseball as we know it isn’t all on Kevin Kouzmanoff. Not even close. Besides, the state of Padres baseball isn’t all that bad to begin with. It just feels like it sometimes. Like now, after a gut-wrenching 17-inning defeat at the hands of the hated Dodgers, with Kouzmanoff stranding the tying and winning runs on base.

The Sunday faithful at Petco could see that ending coming a mile away, which is about the same distance one could hear the collective “not him!!” ringing the East Village neighborhood, as the rookie third basemen walked to home plate, game on the line. Of course, Kouzmanoff struck out, looking every bit the Rob Deer in headlights.

While Kouzmanoff is a convenient fall guy, every expert in and around baseball could have predicted what often happens to rookies who are handed jobs during Spring Training. There are experts in the Padres front office. Well, not Paul DePodesta, but there are experts. They knew the .119 batting average was a possibility. They absolutely knew. They just had no alternative, particularly, and they hoped for a better result.

Russell Branyon will be back from bereavement leave shortly, and Kouzmanoff will be on a plane north the same day. He has choices besides Southwest, but the Padres have none when it comes to third base. They’ll leave Kouzmanoff in the quiet of the Pacific Northwest, and pray for the young man to find his batting stroke. It’ll be at least 15 days, but might be a couple of months. Branyon will be fine for awhile, and Kouzmanoff will be better for the experience.

In the meantime, perhaps a little perspective. Josh Barfield, for whom Kouzmanoff was traded, is hitting .162. Chicago White Sox third baseman Joe Crede is batting .156 and Dodgers 3B Wilson Betemit is at .133. Royals 3B Alex Gordon’s average is .169, Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman’s is .236, Reds 3B Edwin Encarnacion is .221, and Arizona 3B Craig Counsell is .235. Across the diamond, Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche is hitting .125. Big sticks all.

Microscopic batting records are scarier-looking, and in fact, actually more frightening in the early going. When the records in question represent the beginning of a career, rather than merely a season, it feels as though the sky was falling, or something else had been dropped upon the player from a great height.

While Kouzmanoff is in Portland, he’d be well-advised to watch for falling trees. And a vocal chord rehearsal of the word “timber!!!” wouldn’t hurt a bit either.

— HOWARD COLE

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