MLB

Padres try to rebound from 91-loss season

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SAN DIEGO (AP)

The San Diego Padres think they'll be better this year.

Considering they finished last in the NL West at 71-91 last season, there's only one direction they can go.

The Padres struggled from the opening week on and managed to get yet another hitting coach fired before new general manager Josh Byrnes began to turn things around with a series of deals in December and January.

Instead of subtracting talent from the roster, which they'd done for a number of seasons, the Padres actually started adding.

''There's a lot of excitement for sure,'' said speedy center fielder Cameron Maybin, who was rewarded for an exciting 2011 season with a $25 million, five-year contract during spring training. ''I think we all have a much better offensive team. We've got a lot more character, too. I don't know what you may see on the field or in the dugout but this team has a lot of character and a lot of guys who want to win. I guess you'll see some hungry guys for sure.

''We had our moments of course. But I think nobody in our clubhouse was happy with what we did.''

After GM Jed Hoyer left after two seasons for the same job with the Chicago Cubs, Byrnes was promoted and began going to work.

His first move was to sign outfielder Mark Kotsay, as much for his veteran leadership as his left-handed bat off the bench.

''I think this team will improve from last year,'' Kotsay said. ''We've got a chance in this division with the balance there is among the teams to compete and give ourselves a chance.''

Kotsay likes the moves Byrnes made.

Byrnes traded talented but erratic right-hander Mat Latos to Cincinnati for four players, including starter Edinson Volquez and two top prospects, first baseman Yonder Alonso and catcher Yasmani Grandal. Alonso will be the starter.

Byrnes acquired slugger Carlos Quentin from the Chicago White Sox two weeks later. Quentin starred at a San Diego high school and then Stanford before his pro career. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on March 19 and could miss the first two weeks of the season.

The GM also dealt slugging first baseman Anthony Rizzo to the Chicago Cubs for reliever Andrew Cashner as he continued to rebuild a bullpen depleted by trades and the loss of All-Star Heath Bell to free agency. Byrnes also traded for closer Huston Street. Rizzo struggled as a rookie after tearing up the Pacific Coast League.

''You have to have veteran leadership and your everyday grinding guys,'' Kotsay said. ''I think that mix provides a balance on a team. And as far as expectation levels, if guys perform to their abilities just based on their averages, we can compete.''

The Padres need to hit better, particularly at Petco Park. Randy Ready was fired as hitting coach after the Padres had the lowest batting average in the NL (.237); the second-highest strikeout total in the majors (1,320); and scored only 593 runs, second-lowest in the NL.

He was replaced by Phil Plantier, the sixth person to hold the job since cavernous Petco Park opened in 2004. The Padres hired Alonzo Powell to serve as Plantier's assistant, although he won't be allowed to sit in the dugout during games.

The Padres would like more production from right fielder Will Venable (.246, 92 strikeouts) and shortstop Jason Bartlett (.245, 98 strikeouts). Third baseman Chase Headley hit only four homers in 381 at-bats while striking out 92 times.

The rotation, while solid, isn't dazzling. It includes Tim Stauffer, lefty Cory Luebke, Volquez, lefty Clayton Richard and Dustin Moseley.

''Every manager will tell you the pitching is something you worry about all the time,'' Bud Black said. ''Right now our guys are healthy, which is a good thing. But we've got to sort out the bullpen. I don't know if it's a worry; it's just something we need to do so guys understand what's expected of them as we move closer to the season.''

Black likes the addition of the hard-throwing Cashner.

''We knew we were getting a big arm,'' Black said. ''Now it's just a matter of being able to mold him into a role and a comfort level on this team where he's an integral part of what we do. This year we're going to put him in the bullpen but that doesn't mean in the future we won't consider him as a starting pitcher. But he's a guy who's going to be a big part of the organization moving forward.''

Cashner could inherit the eighth-inning role that belonged to Mike Adams before he was traded to the Texas Rangers on July 31.

The Padres have to prove that they'll be a better product than last year.

''We're seeing some good situational hitting. Our pitching is starting to come around. We're playing solid defense. And I think there's a true understanding of how our team needs to play to win games,'' Black said.

Tagged: Cubs, Padres, Mark Kotsay, Tim Stauffer, Will Venable, Andrew Cashner

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