Padres expecting balance

Officially, Terrmel Sledge is projected to share left field with Jose Cruz Jr. for the Padres this season. But don't be surprised if Sledge becomes the Padres' leadoff hitter.

"We think Sledge can handle it," general manager Kevin Towers said while discussing the makeup of the 2007 team. And new manager Bud Black agrees.

"We've talked about the possibility of Terrmel in that role, and when you look at the statistics, there are indications he can do it," Black said.

"I'd welcome the chance," said Sledge, who turns 30 before the start of the season. "I've done it before. I have a pretty good track record of getting on base."

Sledge hit .229 in 70 at-bats with the Padres last season. He spent most of 2006 with Triple-A Portland, where he hit a team-leading .311 with 24 homers and 73 RBIs in 101 games. Perhaps his most important statistic in the Padres' eyes was a .402 on-base percentage.

Sledge had missed most of the 2005 season following surgery to repair a severe tear in his right hamstring muscle suffered on May 2 that year.

"I don't feel I was ever 100 percent last season," Sledge said. "It was the strangest feeling. The whole right side of my body wasn't working right until around August. Through most of the season, it felt like I was trying to get in shape, like I never got out of spring training. Then in September, I felt worn down."

Sledge played last season at 210 pounds. He said he presently weighs 195.

"I've been more excited this offseason just because I'm healthy," he said. "I'm back to normal for the first time since the hamstring injury."

Black said he had good reports on Sledge from Craig Colbert, who was Portland's manager last season and will serve Black in 2007 as the Padres' bench coach.

"Craig speaks very highly of Terrmel," Black said. "He also believes Terrmel wasn't 100 percent last season."

In discussing the 2007 Padres, Towers said he is still looking for a No. 5 starter -- free agent David Wells remains the leading candidate with Mike Thompson and Tim Stauffer being the insurance -- and said first baseman Adrian Gonzalez likely will be the club's cleanup hitter.

The Padres projected batting order is Sledge, second baseman Marcus Giles, right fielder Brian Giles, Gonzalez, center fielder Mike Cameron, third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff or Russell Branyan, catcher Josh Bard or Rob Bowen, and shortstop Khalil Greene.

"One thing I like is the lineup balance we could have from top to bottom," Black said.

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