Fountain of Youth

Among the first players to greet David Wells at the Padres' spring training camp was another balding, aging pitcher on the comeback trail.

"Everybody always counts out the bald, fat dude ... and yet we're always there come crunch time," reliever Rod Beck said shortly after greeting the 40-year-old Wells.

Just as Beck found the fountain of youth with the Padres last year -- 20-for-20 in save opportunities after the Padres bought his contract from the Chicago Cub's Triple-A Triple-A club at Iowa City -- the Padres are hoping Wells can rekindle his career in his return to his hometown.

"I'll take 15 wins and 200 innings," Padres general manager Kevin Towers said of Wells. It was Towers who broke off hopes of signing Greg Maddux last December and opted to go after Wells, who was offered a minor league contract with the Yankees after undergoing back surgery in December.

Wells is guaranteed $1.25 million with the Padres. Another $5.75 million is available in incentives.

Wells, however, is coming off his second round of back surgery in 30 months. And he had eight months to recuperate following his 2001 surgery, compared to only four months this time.

Still, the Padres have penciled in Wells to have the honor of starting the first game at Petco Park on April 8. Wells was raised in San Diego and had dreamed of being a Padre while playing his high school ball at Point Loma -- which is just around the bend of San Diego Bay from Petco Park.

As for Wells starting the first game in Petco Park, Padres manager Bruce Bochy said: "David has always been a San Diego fan. There's a connection here. It's an honor for him to get that start. It's appropriate."

Wells does look dedicated to being ready for the call.

He reported to camp 30 pounds lighter than he was last year with the Yankees. And on the second day of drills, Wells was moving without problems through fielding drills under the watchful eye of the Padres field and medical staff.

"I expect to do everything asked of me," said Wells. "Pitch, field my position and this year hit and run the bases. That's a little more activity than in the American League. But I'm not out there to swing for the fences. My job is to pitch and do whatever I can do to help this club win."

Peoria Notes:

Hitters took live batting practice against Jay Witasick, Ismael Valdez, Akinori Otsuka and Trevor Hoffman, among others. The Padres will continue their workouts tomorrow in preparation for the annual Charity Game vs. the Seattle Mariners in three days.

Bochy said Ben Howard will be the likely starter and go two innings Thursday, the Padres annual charity game against the Mariners to kick off spring training, as Jake Peavy gets some rest for his ailing oblique. Fellow right-hander Brian Lawrence is slated to follow but the order is subject to change.

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