Padres pinpoint pitching potential

Cruise through any listing of San Diego Padres related headlines for the first couple of weeks of Spring Training and you might get the idea that general manager Jed Hoyer, manager Bud Black and the rest of the boys in America’s Finest City were running a pitching clinic. Nearly every story coming out of Peoria has had something to do with the Friars’ stable of arms.

That’s because most of baseball is curious to see if San Diego’s pitching staff can duplicate its eye-opening performance from 2010. How many fans north of Carlsbad could name three of the Padres five starters from last year? And how many would have guessed that the Padres had the second-lowest team earned run average in the majors last season? In which case, you’d be forgiven if you approached San Diego pitching with a healthy dose of skepticism this year.

At the head of the wait-and-see list is Mat Latos. The 23-year old made the most of his first full season in the bigs, going 14-10 with a 2.92 ERA, a record that was tarnished by Latos losing his final five starts. It wasn’t totally his fault since the Padres scored a total of eight runs in those five outings. But the righty showed signs of hitting the wall, only making it past the fifth inning once while allowing six or more hits in each appearance. Latos’ first spring outing didn’t do much to allay any fears. He struggled with his control for 1 1/3 innings and threw 34 pitches, 15 for strikes, before giving way to the bullpen.

Contrast that with new addition Aaron Harang who breezed through his spring debut. Harang was slated for two innings or 35 pitches, whichever came first. Turns out, it was the former. Harang blew through six outs in just 23 pitches – then headed to the bullpen to use the rest of his allotted throws for the day.

Of course, that’s what Spring Training is for – a fact reinforced by Hoyer who told Bill Center of the San Diego Union Tribune that exhibition games are primarily for the benefit of the pitchers.

Which is a good thing since there are a handful of Padres pitchers hoping to leave Peoria in better spots than when they arrived. Chief among them is closer Heath Bell who has yet to see game action after tweaking a calf muscle earlier in camp. Bell says he’s ready to go, but the team is taking a cautious approach. In the meantime, setup man Mike Adams has been itching to prove that he’s capable of handling the ninth inning in the event Bell is unable to fulfill his duties.

Speaking of looking to fill a role, there’s the issue of San Diego’s fifth starter. It’s come down to a battle between Wade LeBlanc and free agent addition Dustin Moseley. LeBlanc is working to regain the coaching staff’s trust after being dropped from the rotation late last season. Moseley, on the other hand, is a long way from his days as a prospect in the Reds’ chain but hopes that a good spring plus his relationship with Black from their time together with the Angels can land him a spot in the rotation.

With still about four weeks until Opening Day, things are far from set in stone.


Chew on these Southern California baseball news nuggets…

Spring of hard knocks – It has been a black and blue spring for the Padres so far. Last Friday, third-base coach Glenn Hoffman was hit in the head with a fungo bat while hitting ground balls during drills. Then on Wednesday, James Darnell was hit in the back of the head, just below the helmet, by a pickoff throw. Neither Hoffman and Darnell were seriously hurt. Of greater concern is bench coach Rick Renteria who was taken to a hospital on Thursday after being hit just above the lip by a line drive that glanced off a protective screen. Reports are that Renteria had several of his teeth pushed back and will need reconstructive surgery. There is no word on when he will return to camp.

On today’s episode of Divorce Court – Dodger owners Frank and Jamie McCourt met on Thursday to resume settlement negotiations in their pending divorce. Neither sides attorney would comment on the nature of the discussions there is a belief that the McCourts could be inching toward a decision to settle the whole affair. Frank is considering pursuing a second trial to prove he is the sole owner of the team, but a date could be more than two years away. Depending on when proceedings are scheduled, the Dodgers may be in position to negotiate a new television deal, something that would have an impact on Jamie’s financial claims regarding the team.

Zot! – Don’t look now, but UC Irvine is off to a 7-0 start. Of course that should be taken with a healthy dose of salt since the Anteaters haven’t played the toughest schedule so far. Nonetheless, it was good enough to get Irvine into Baseball America’s rankings at number 25. It should be smooth sailing for the ‘Eaters for another couple of weeks until their three-game set against Loyola Marymount March 18-20.

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