With Chase Headley on a home-run tear and Evereth Cabrera and Cameron Maybin boosting batting averages by 100 points, a patched-up mound corps managed to do the rest. Pitcher injuries, slumps and lack of clutch hitting plagued the club in the first half of 2012, dooming it to a fourth-place finish in the end.
“We’ve got to pitch better,” Black cautioned. “Teams that are successful and have good seasons pitch well. Last year, we saw what can happen when you’re not healthy.”
The chief chore will be to select his pitching rotation until solid hurlers Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland rehab from Tommy John shoulder sur-gery. They won’t be available until summer.
There are 30 hurlers in camp who’ll be tested in exhibition games. Mainstays Clayton Richard (14-14) Edison Volguez (10-10) are assured two of the five starter jobs.
The hang-up might be Petco Park’s shortened fences, where lazy flies will reach home-run territory. It’s no longer a hurler’s haven. Richard last year served up 31 homers in 281 innings.
General manager Josh Byrnes ad-dressed it this way: “There’s no shortage in pitching candidates in leading to a worthy five-man rotation. There’s a chance we can solve the rotation with our own guys. The thing about the off-season is we haven’t pursued guys just to add bodies. But if we feel there’s an upgrade, someone with an upside, or a long-term guy, then OK.”
He believes the Padres have 10 strong bidders for the spots by the time the opening bell rings April 1 in New York. It’s a young team. Twenty-six players on the 40-man squad are in their 20s.
Except for catcher Yasmani Grandal, everyone should be in place as spring training moves ahead in Peoria. Grandal, a power-hitting catcher, is serving a 50-game suspension imposed by the league for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
“There’s something to continuity if the right people are in place,” said Black. “My approach through all this, more than anything, has been to be a consistent, steadying force as much as possible.”
In other words, Black said he will work with what has been provided. And in his six years as Padres manager, he’s served under three general managers.
The O’Malley family — the new club owners — opened their purse strings a lot for Headley and reliever Luke Gregerson this winter, boosting the team salary closer to $50 million. Headly will get a single-season contract for $8.3 million and Gregerson $3.2 million.
Headley led the club in home runs and RBIs and was fifth in the balloting for Most Valuable Player in the National League. Gregerson, who worked as a setup reliever and as a closer, was the only Padre selected on the All-Star team.
Black said he hopes outfielder Carlos Quentin, slowed by injuries last season, can perform in at least 130 games. This power hitter belted 16 homers in 284 at-bats.
With a consistently changing cast of players in his tenure, the Padres are 464-509 under Black and have finished better than .500 only twice.
“It’s a continued effort to understand that component in the relationship between player and manager,” Black said. “To get the best out of the player, you have to let him know the expectation level.”
Every team opens spring camp with high hopes of reaching the playoffs — even those lovable losers known as the Chicago Cubs.