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Every ball club has a weakness or two, even the New York Yankees. While the Yankees could use some more starting pitching (as can the Red Sox and the Dodgers), and the Chicago Cubs are weak at the corners (infield), the Padres' biggest weakness is up the middle. The middle refers to the infield positions of second base and short stop. Those positions in 2012 are held by veterans Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett.

Hudson is 34 years old now. And while O-Dawg might disagree (it would be disappointing if he didn't), the second baseman has lost a step of lateral movement, defensively. That doesn't equate to more errors, but it does widen the gap between first and second base and open up the middle. The bat has declined since Hudson's last year with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The last four years have progressed downward in batting average, .305, .283, .268, and last year with the Padres, Hudson batted .246 for the season.

With Bartlett, the 32-year old short stop is still a solid glove on routine plays. But like Hudson, the lateral range has declined. It has to. Time waits for no one. With the bat, Bartlett is often streaky and at times good, but the trend of striking out noticeably projects upward. Last year with the Padres, Bartlett hit .245 but his slugging percentage was lower than his on-base average, both barely over .300 for the season.

There's no reason to think that these two veterans will not rebound and have better seasons than they did last year. Both are capable of hitting better. And, you know, the Yankees obviously overcome the lack of lateral movement from Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano. Those two can hit their way out of their age group. We'll see with Hudson and Bartlett.

The biggest puzzle-piece of the middle is going to be answered by Everth Cabrera.

Every team needs a utility infielder. Cabrera wants to be more than that. If you coach him, you don't want him to want any less. Cabrera came to the Padres through the Rule V draft in 2008.

The Rule V draft was put into effect to protect players from serving too many years in one minor league system under their control without allowing the player to get a shot at something better in another organization. Cabrera was with the Colorado Rockies when the Padres drafted him out of there, and he spent 2009 with the big club. The Rockies weren't happy about that. Tough to blame them.

At the time, Cabrera was raw talent, but really good raw talent, good to the point where the Padres thought enough to draft him because all rule V's have to be on the 25-man roster. And he performed. And there were flaws. Cabrera would make incredible plays on balls that an average short stop wouldn't have even attempted, and there were lapses on routine plays.

At the end of the season, the Padres optioned Cabrera to the minors. And Cabrera was pissed off. And Cabrera should have been pissed off and the Padres understood that and appreciated that, you want every player to want to be on the big league roster. Yet, Cabrera still performed in the minors and the times he was called up to the big club. And he got injured. Hamate bone, twice (choke up, Everth!).

Patience might have paid off for the Nicaraguan. Because this year, while he probably will not get a legitimate shot at starting, he looks really good in the utility role. Cabrera can play short stop, second base, third base, and apparently in the outfield, that's where the Padres have been slotting him all spring. That's a lot of gloves in the utility bag.

The utility infielder on a team where the middle is weak is important. At times, vitally important. It isn't a reach to say that Everth Cabrera could be the savior up the middle. And it isn't a reach to say that Cabrera in that role could be the key to ensuring that the Padres have a shot of being a little bit competitive in 2012. Wherever they need him to play.

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Friday night, Edinson Volquez looked a lot more like the Edinson Volquez he used to be. His velocity was consistent, the pitches well-placed, and he was the first Padres pitcher in the Cactus League to go 80 pitches in a game. In 5 2/3 innings, Volquez allowed 2 runs on 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out 6 Reds batters. Brad Brach relieved Volquez and gave up a couple of hits (one run scored and was charged to Volquez), but Joe Thatcher, Andrew Cashner, and Brad Boxberger each pitched an inning of scoreless ball, and the Padres beat the Reds, 5-2.

Offensively, back-up catcher Joe Baker went 2 for 3 with 2 runs batted in. Yonder Alonso also went 2 for 3 including a triple, where he then scored on a sacrifice fly by Will Venable. Venable was 0 for 1, but had 2 runs batted in. Mark Kotsay doubled, and Chris Denorfia, Matt Clark, Brad Davis and Everth Cabrera rounded out the Padres attack.


Notes:

Nick Hundley, who has been sidelined with a strained oblique, is scheduled to start on Saturday. Orlando Hudson is still day-to-day, while Kyle Blanks looks to be a few days out yet. Even with Carlos Quentin sidelined for up to six weeks, and even with some of the normal strains and pulls that go along with spring training, the Padres have so far fared very well in comparison with the majority of other clubs.

Saturday, the Padres will again split squads. One squad will experience déjà vu and remain in Peoria to face the Cincinnati Reds for a second day in a row. Clayton Richard is expected to get the start. The other squad will wind up across town in Mesa, where Anthony Bass figures to start against the Chicago Cubs. Both games start at 1:05 PM, and the game in Peoria should be carried on radio, either XX1090 AM or 1700 AM.

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