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Channel 4 ‘probably’ out of Padres’ TV picture

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Channel 4 San Diego “probably” will not continue to carry Padres baseball games following the 2011 season, station manager Dennis Morgigno said Thursday.

The Cox Communications-owned station has been the primary home of Padres telecasts since 1997, and its exclusive home since 2004, but its contract expires after the current season.

A club source said no deal has been reached with another company to carry the games. There have been rumors that Fox Sports Network has offered the Padres a contract for as long as 20 years to carry the games on a new cable and satellite network that would be started in San Diego.

“We haven’t been notified about what the deal is, about who will have the deal,” Morgigno said. “I’m really in a position where I can’t say anything except it’s probably not going to be us.”

Morgigno said an all-employee meeting was held Thursday to address rumors that Fox already has a deal with the Padres. “We wanted to calm everybody down,” he said. “We don’t know what the deal is but whoever gets the deal, we are not out of the game. Cox is an important partner of the Padres.

“We represent half a million households (in San Diego County). Anybody who does a deal will have to talk with us about carriage. It’s way too early to speculate about what a new deal would mean for Channel 4.”

Morgigno said Channel 4 has not been told the Padres have a deal with another company, or that his station definitely is out of the running. But he also said there are no current talks between Cox and the Padres.

Padres President and COO Tom Garfinkel declined to comment. The club has made no secret of the fact it wants broader coverage of its games. Cox televises 140 regular season games each year, but the telecasts are seen only on Cox and Time Warner cable. There is no carriage on DirecTV, Dish Network or AT&T U-Verse.

Golfer Gulbis takes BP

There was a buzz at the park when LPGA star Natalie Gulbis stepped into the batter’s box three hours before Thursday’s game to take some soft-toss batting practice off manager Bud Black. The first-base line was packed with onlookers. The cage was crowded.

“This is like the playoffs,” joked Black.

Gulbis was in town promoting TaylorMade’s new driver and the 88-foot driver replica attached to the right-field foul pole that was unveiled.

Gulbis struggled off Black’s slow tosses, her best hits barely reaching the outfield grass after they stopped rolling.

“Frustrating,” said, Gulbis, 28, who hadn’t swung a bat since playing in charity softball events as a teenager. “I didn’t even know I was doing it or I would have practiced. I’ve been practicing throwing, but I wasn’t ready to hit.”

After her batting performance, Gulbis picked up a driver and began launching limited-flight balls into the stands.

“You hit like a girl,” joked reliever Mike Adams. “Get off the women’s tees.”

Gulbis teed up one regulation ball and with about a three-quarter swing, launched it deep into the Park at the Park, about 20 yards in front of the Tony Gwynn statue.

Tim Stauffer, who plays to a 4½ handicap, stepped to the plate after Gulbis and hit some limited-flight balls. His first drive smacked the top of the hitter’s backdrop in center field. His last one landed in the Park at the Park.

“He looked like he’d been on a golf course,” said Gulbis. “A very nice golf swing.”

How competitive is Gulbis? After the promotion she stepped into the underground batting cage and practiced hitting.

Venable, Hawpe rest

Against right-handed Roy Oswalt, Black didn’t start usual left-handed hitters Will Venable and Brad Hawpe, who came into the game hitting .154 and .119, respectively.

Chris Denorfia started in right and Jorge Cantu at first.

Black said Hawpe would be taking a couple days off “to work on some things” and that Venable might be taking a couple days off, too.

Hawpe is in a 1-for-19 slide with nine strikeouts. Venable is in a 3-for-24 slump.

Black likes playoff expansion

Black on the increasing likelihood of baseball expanding the playoffs in 2012, adding one more wild-card team in each league: “My initial impression is positive. Just because of fan interest. I’m for it.”

The Padres would have made the playoffs in 2007 and 2010 under a two-wild card format.