Padres Insider: The Starting Pitchers

The fab five for the San Diego Padres will consist of David Wells, Brian Lawrence, Adam Eaton, Jake Peavy and one of Sterling Hitchcock, Ismael Valdes or Ben Howard. Hitch is the odds on favorite to win. Being a left-hander gives him the edge over his right-handed counterparts. The Padres will start the year in a four man rotation, with off days early on giving the starts an extra day of rest. As spring training begins, here are some interesting tidbits, concerns and notes for each player.

LHP David Wells signed a one-year contract after rejecting a minor league offer from the Yankees. He has lost 36 pounds since offseason back surgery and looks to be in great shape. The native San Diegan, 40, wanted to return home to pitch in first season at Petco Park.

He will start the home opener at Petco Park. 200-game winner has said 2004 will probably be last season. The Padres broke off negotiations with Greg Maddux when Wells (15-7, 4.14 ERA with the Yankees last year) expressed interest, fearing they could also lose out on Maddux and have nothing at top of rotation.

RHP Brian Lawrence, 27, is the senior member of three young "homegrown" pitchers in the rotation. He will almost certainly start the opener for the Friars.

Lawrence spent most of 2003 at the No. 1 slot in the Padres rotation and finished 10-15 with a 4.19 ERA, but was 5-5 with a 3.76 ERA after the All-Star break. Allowed three or fewer runs in eight of last nine starts. Sinker specialist.

RHP Adam Eaton, 26, had Tommy John surgery in August of 2001. This year is a big year for the youngster.

Was 9-12 with 4.08 ERA last year in first full season back, but was 5-5 with 3.92 ERA after All-Star break. He said that his ball had best movement ever over final three games of 2003. Some believe he will eventually be a strong No. 2 or No. 1.

RHP Jake Peavy led the Padres with 12-11 record in 2003 with 4.11 ERA. He was the only starting pitcher to post a winning record for the team in '03.

And he didn't turn 22 until May 31. He has great psychological makeup with natural sink on fastball. The Padres scored three runs or less in 15 of Peavy's 32 starts. And he was 10-4 with 2.89 ERA when pitched at least six innings.

LHP Sterling Hitchcock, 32, or RHP Ismael Valdes, 30, will be in the No. 5 slot in the rotation.

Hitchcock returns to the Padres, for whom he was MVP of the 1996 National League playoffs. He was 5-1 with 3.79 ERA in six late-season starts with the Cardinals last year. Hitchcock has the inside track the job.

The loser here could wind up being long man and spot starter in bullpen.

RHP Ismael Valdes, 30, is the challenger for the No. 5 slot in the rotation. That's unless there are injuries elsewhere.

Valdes was 8-8 with 6.10 ERA in 22 starts with Rangers in 2003. The Padres are hoping return to National League will help Valdes, although Hitchcock has inside track the job.

RHP Ben Howard (24, 1-3 with a solid 3.63 ERA in six late-season 2003 starts) could be ready, but Howard has only an outside shot at making the rotation unless someone else falters.

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