Padres looking forward after tumultuous spring
Injuries to Headley, Kelly and Quentin don't damper team optimisim
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Padres manager Bud Black was recently leaning back in a chair in the media work room, talking about some of the averages of his hitters in Spring Training.
"Statistically, you don't look at a lot in Spring Training," Black said. "But come April 1, it's a different ballgame."
The regular season is nearly here for the Padres, who broke camp in Arizona on Thursday and headed to San Antonio for games Friday and Saturday against the Rangers.
From there, the team heads to New York for Monday's season opener against the Mets at Citi Field.
W: Niese L: Volquez
Their spring won't so much be remembered for noted performances in Arizona, though rookie infielder Jedd Gyorko, catcher Nick Hundley and pitcher Tyson Ross, among a handful of others, impressed the coaching staff and front office.
Instead, the Padres inch closer to Opening Day after a somewhat tumultuous spring, as third baseman Chase Headley, who won a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Award last season and led the league in RBIs (115), will begin the season on the disabled list with a fractured tip of his left thumb.
The news was worse for rotation candidate Casey Kelly, who will have reconstructive surgery on his right elbow on Tuesday.
Also, left fielder Carlos Quentin aggravated his surgically-repaired right knee earlier this month and only played in his first Spring Training game on Tuesday.
"If we can keep the pitching healthy, we can hang in there," Black said. "Then we wait for Chase's return and to get Quentin back to normal. But you don't want to rush that."
That won't be easy in one of baseball's toughest divisions -- the National League West -- and the Padres have 20 games against division foes in the first month alone.
All of that said, center fielder Cameron Maybin stood in the middle of the clubhouse in Arizona recently, looked around and made a proclamation.
"We really like the guys we have," Maybin said.
The Padres, who made few changes to the roster from the team that played well during the second half of 2012, return nearly their entire grouping of position players.
"You hope to carry over from last year, that run production," Black said. "Last year's second half was pretty good offensively."
Hundley, who has improved his mechanics with hitting coach Phil Plantier, will get most of the catching duties during the first 50 games, as Yasmani Grandal serves his suspension.
Gyorko showed in spring he could handle second base defensively, and there are few questions about his bat after he hit a combined 30 home runs in the Minor Leagues last season.
First baseman Yonder Alonso, entering his second full Major League season, had 39 doubles a year ago, and could benefit from altered dimensions at Petco Park, as could other left-handed hitters, as the fence in right field has been brought in 11 feet.
The Padres like their outfield platoon of Chris Denorfia and Will Venable, who combined for the eighth-best OPS in baseball last season.
The Padres were aggressive at the plate this spring, jumping on pitches early in the count. That's something they expect will continue in the regular season. On the bases, the Padres vow to be aggressive. A year ago, only the Brewers (158) stole more bases than the Padres (155).
A year ago, the Padres scored the fifth-most runs in the National League over the final 86 games of the season. They are hoping for a carry-over in 2013, though doing so, initially at least, without Headley and Quentin won't be easy.
"Hopefully we'll get them back sooner [rather] than later," Maybin said.
The back end of the Padres' bullpen will be in good hands with closer Huston Street and eighth-inning specialist Luke Gregerson, who might be one of the most underrated late-game relievers in the game.
The rotation will look familiar, with Edinson Volquez, Clayton Richard, Jason Marquis and Eric Stults holding down the first four spots. Because of injuries and inconsistency, only Volquez and Richard made more than 16 starts a year ago. If the Padres are to improve on their 76 victories from last season, they'll need dependability and durability from their starters.
The Padres still need to decide on a fifth starter, though Ross, obtained from the A's, could be in the mix after an impressive spring that included a 15 1/3 scoreless innings streak that ended on March 22. Andrew Cashner, who suffered a lacerated tendon in his right thumb in December, has recovered fast and pitched well. The Padres won't need their fifth starter until April 6.
"I really like our starting five. It's going to be a tough day facing those guys," Maybin said.
Catcher John Baker, beginning his second season with the team, knows they've had some bumps and bruises in Spring Training. That said, he thinks there are better days ahead.
"Everything we've done in Spring Training points toward us being better than we were last year," Baker said. "It's going to be difficult to sneak up on people. That's fine. We like our chances."