Matthew Lickona 11:49 p.m., Dec. 10
The last week of spring training - of Cactus League play for the Padres - is more serious in terms of individual performance. Competition for spots on the 25-man roster becomes more intense. With the Padres, Andy Parrino and Everth Cabrera are battling for the back-up infielder's spot. In the outfield, with Carlos Quentin sure to open the season on the disabled list and with Will Venable's excellent spring, it appears that either Kyle Blanks or Jeremy Hermida will be hoping to be the one on the team come opening day.
The difference between the big leagues and AAA is tremendous. Performance-wise, playing against the best in the world means that as a hitter you face speeds that vary incredibly, pitchers who spot pitches with deadly accuracy, fielders that take away hits you might otherwise get in the minors. As a pitcher, it means facing hitters that have the ability to whack your best stuff all over the field, sometimes wherever and however they wish. And they make it look easy. And you know it isn't.
The other differences are in the amenities of being a part of the show. In AA you bus far more than you fly, in AAA you fly more than you bus except the flights are mostly not chartered, and in the show you fly charted and only go by bus when playing a cross-town rival. Your Per Diem (when playing away games the daily money the club pays each player for food and miscellaneous expenses) in the majors comes close to a hundred bucks. In the minors, it's a third of that.
It's the difference between a Hilton and a Travel Lodge.
Teammates involved in such battles tend to have tremendous respect for each other, so it isn't likely you'll ever see anyone pulling a Tonya Harding. But the competition gets more intense the last 10 days or so, the pressure is on. And for those who make the club, that pressure remains, because they know that the other guy in AAA is seeing easier pitching or easier hitting, and he's breathing down their neck.
Buddy Black and Josh Byrnes are going to make the tough choices. But fans get to speculate on what the choices will be, and a little over a week away from opening day is a good time to try and figure out who goes to San Diego or who gets to sharpen their skills in Tucson or San Antonio. If the decision had to be made today, it might look like this:
Starting Pitching: Tim Stauffer, Edinson Volquez, Cory Luebke, Clayton Richard, Dustin Moseley
Relief Pitching: Anthony Bass, Micah Owings, Joe Thatcher, Ernesto Frieri, Luke Gregerson, Andrew Cashner, Huston Street (closer)
Catcher: Nick Hundley
Back-up Catcher: John Baker
Starting Infield: Yonder Alonso (1B), Orlando Hudson (2B), Jason Bartlett (SS), Chase Headley (3B)
Back-up Infield: Everth Cabrera (2B, SS, 3B), Jesus Guzman (1B, LF, RF)
Starting Outfield: Chris Denorfia* (LF), Cameron Maybin (CF), Will Venable (RF)
Back-up Outfield: Mark Kotsay (LF, CF, RF), Kyle Blanks (RF, LF)
*With Carlos Quentin on the DL.
Presuming that Blanks and Hudson are good to go on opening day, it seems logical. But Andy Parrino is probably a notch better with the glove right now than is Everth Cabrera. And Cabrera has the better bat. And with Blanks' shoulder the way it is and Jeremy Hermida's nice spring, you never know. And there are times that Buddy likes to stock eight in the bullpen, another thing to consider. But here we are in the home stretch anyway. A little over a week away. We might as well start betting now before they hit the wire.
In Peoria on Saturday, the Cincinnati Reds got even with the Padres, shutting out the split squad 6-0. Lefty Clayton Richard would have liked better results from his 84-pitch outing. Richard gave up 5 runs (3 earned) on 7 hits and a walk while striking out four. But in pitching 4 2/3 innings, Richard stretched out the arm more than any other pitcher so far in spring training. And the Padres defense wasn't helpful, so that all things considered it wasn't a bad outing.
Huston Street, Andrew Cashner, Dale Thayer, and Cory Burns each worked an inning in relief.
Offensively, there wasn't much going on as the Padres only managed 6 hits. Mark Kotsay went 2 for 3 and minor league prospect Dan Robertson was 2 for 2 with a double. Sawyer Carroll and pitcher Clayton Richard each got a hit.
On the other side of town in Mesa, the other squad had a better go of it, beating the Cubs 5-1. Starting pitcher Anthony Bass had an impressive outing, giving up only 1 run on a hit with a strikeout. Bass has to be considered as a legitimate contender to break into the starting rotation.
Micah Owings also got in an impressive 3 innings of work, scattering 2 hits and a walk while not allowing a run and striking out two. Ernesto Frieri and Miles Mikolas each pitched a perfect inning in relief.
Will Venable continues to have a great spring, going 1 for 2, belting a double into the gap that scored two runs. Yonder Alonso was 2 for 3, Jeremy Hermina went 2 for 2 with a double, and hits were distributed by Reymond Fuentes, Nathan Freiman, Yasmani Grandal, and Jonathan Galvez. Fuentes swiped two bases and now has 3 total in Cactus League play.
Another injury, this one is Jeff Suppan, an arm strain. No word on the status of that injury just yet. The veteran Suppan is in camp as a non-roster invitee, hoping to land a job with the big club. If not, chances are he would start at AAA Tucson, assuming his injury is not serious. Catcher Nick Hundley resumed play on Saturday, striking out twice, but reported no pain in the oblique. Orlando Hudson and Kyle Blanks are still day-to-day.
Dustin Moseley is scheduled to start on Sunday as the Padres play host to the Diamondbacks in Peoria. Joe Wieland is also expected to get some work in. Game time is at 1:05 PM and can be heard on radio XX1090 AM.