Padres inn is full as spring training looms

The Padres head to Arizona this week pretty much knowing who will be heading back to San Diego come the end of spring training.

Oh, there is a slight question about the fifth man in the starting rotation, where RHPs Justin Germano and Tim Stauffer could challenge LHP Darrell May. And the last spots on the bench and in the bullpen could change. But, save any unforeseen blockbuster during spring training, the roster is pretty well set.

The biggest questions facing the Padres are health and a return to form of the middle of their lineup. Had RF Brian Giles and LF Ryan Klesko had normal years in 2004, the Padres might have been able to make up the six games that separated them from the NL West title.

As it was, the Padres made a 23-game improvement in 2004 while drawing more than three million fans in their first season at the downtown Petco Park. But not all the players were delighted with the spacious dimensions of their new home. The most outspoken critics were the power hitters in the heart of the lineup -- Giles, Phil Nevin and Klesko.

And the 2004 Padres weren't really home at home, lacking the speed their new park rewarded. But they have partially addressed that shortcoming by getting center fielder/leadoff hitter Dave Roberts from Boston for outfielder Jay Payton and utility infielder Ramon Vazquez in one of two major trades the Padres made this season. Their other trade brought in May from Kansas City in exchange for outfielder Terrence Long.

May became the front-runner for the No. 5 spot in the rotation when the Padres lost left-hander David Wells to the Red Sox as a free agent. San Diego then turned around and signed free agent Woody Williams to be at least the token No. 1 man in the rotation ... although their starter to watch is 2004 National League earned run average leader Jake Peavy.

The Padres can hit. Last year, they ranked third in the National League with a .273 team batting average. But only two teams hit fewer homers than the Padres, which was a major reason why nine National League teams scored more runs than San Diego last year.

One player the Padres need to get more power from is third baseman Sean Burroughs, who has hit only 10 homers in 339 major league games. True, Burroughs is only 24. But shortstop Khalil Greene, the runner-up in National League Rookie of the Year voting, hit 15 homers last season in 139 games.

"I am healthy," said Burroughs. "I am strong. I am ready to go."

With Roberts leading off, the Padres will alter their batting order this season with Greene moving up from eighth to sixth in the order and Burroughs hitting eighth behind catcher Ramon Hernandez.

In Greene and second baseman Mark Loretta, the Padres have one of the best all-around middle infield combinations. Loretta has a .325 average in his first two seasons with the Padres and has averaged 196 1/2 hits, 14 1/2 homers and 74 RBI -- marks that top his pre-Padres career highs.

Defensively, the Padres improved substantially last year with Hernandez behind the plate, Greene at short and Nevin at first although Klesko was a liability in left. The defense -- and running game -- should get a boost again this year with the addition of Roberts.

General manager Kevin Towers concentrated this winter on bolstering the bench and back end of the bullpen. The front end is fine with Trevor Hoffman back in prime closing form behind the setup tandem of right-handers Akinori Otsuka and Scott Linebrink.

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