PEORIA, Ariz. -- Five things to know about the San Diego Padres:
1. The rotation is night and day different compared to where it was a year ago. Coming off 99 losses in '08 and a whacked payroll because of the owner's divorce, the Padres were in such trouble that they actually plugged into their opening day rotation a right-hander named Walter Silva on the recommendation of the Gonzalez brothers, Adrian and Edgar. They put out an emergency call during spring training to Silva in Mexico, and the man who had never thrown a professional pitch drove his Nissan Titan roughly 1,200 miles from his home in Mazatlan to the Padres' spring camp in Peoria. None of that nonsense this year, where veteran Jon Garland was signed late this winter to join Kevin Correia (team-leading 33 starts and 12 wins last year) and a healthy Chris Young. After that comes strong-armed lefty Clayton Richard, obtained from the White Sox in the Jake Peavy trade. And vying for the fifth spot are Mat Latos, who opened eyes as a rookie last year with a fastball that touched 97 and a big curve, right-hander Tim Stauffer, who made 14 starts for the Padres last year after missing all of 2008 with shoulder surgery, right-hander Sean Gallagher, who has made 23 career starts with the Cubs and Athletics, and lefty Wade LeBlanc, who was 3-1 with a 3.69 ERA in nine starts for the Padres last year.
2. Manager Bud Black on the pitching in camp this year vs. last: "The overall depth, I think, is more reliable. The guys we ultimately will send back to [Triple-A] Portland are guys who have pitched and pitched good games in the majors. A year ago, we didn't have that. The eight or nine guys on our depth chart, you feel better about them this year. They've pitched and done well in a major league game. Last year, we couldn't say that with conviction."
3. So far, so good with right-hander Chris Young. An All-Star in 2007, Young has worked only 178 innings combined over the past two years after getting hit in the face by an Albert Pujols line drive (2008) and undergoing arthroscopic shoulder surgery (2009). He'll line up as a key piece in the Padres' rotation, though if the club falls out of contention you might be hearing his name in trade rumors alongside first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and closer Heath Bell. Young is scheduled to earn $6.25 million this year, and he is eligible for free agency if the Padres do not exercise a club option ($8.5 million) for 2011.
4. Last year, the Padres used an extraordinary 24 rookies, 15 of whom were making their major league debuts. They've cleared the way for one of the most promising, slugger Kyle Blanks, in left field by moving Chase Headley back to his natural position at third base after dealing Kevin Kouzmanoff to Oakland. Shortstop Everth Cabrera, a Rule V pick from Colorado last year, showed life early and then really impressed after a stint on the 60-day disabled list when he fractured a bone on his hand in April. The switch-hitting Cabrera, often compared to Dodgers' shortstop Rafael Furcal, posted a .342 on-base percentage, reaching base safely in 85 of 103 games. He'll probably bat leadoff against left-handers this season while lefty Tony Gwynn Jr. hits leadoff against righties.
5. What's intriguing about these Padres is their 37-25 finish in 2009 once players like Blanks, Headley, Gwynn and Latos were put in place. From July 28 through season's end, that .597 winning percentage ranked fifth in the majors. While it is difficult to judge things once rosters expand in September -- there is a long list of pretenders in that month -- the Padres played very well for a sustained period of time. With Cabrera, David Eckstein and even Blanks, who is swift for a big man (6-6), Black intends to play an aggressive game and push things on the bases. "We want the other team to feel the Padres, hey, they lead [off], they run, they're aware of the base stealing. We want the other team to feel it when we're on the bases."