01/30/2003 5:17 pm ET
Padres Spring Training preview
Club needs everyone injury-free to compete in NL West
By Sandy Burgin / MLB.com
Spring Training rundown
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SAN DIEGO -- Considering that the Padres set Major League records
for players (59) and pitchers (37) used last season, the most pressing issue
facing the team heading into Spring Training 2003 could well be health.
Phil Nevin, Sean Burroughs, Wiki Gonzalez, Kevin Jarvis, Kevin Walker and
Trevor Hoffman, who are part of the core of the Padres, all missed
significant playing time due to injuries and surgeries last season.
Some of the newly-acquired players include Jaret Wright and Francisco
Cordova who are also coming off battles with injuries that have limited
their play over the last couple of seasons.
Just how well some of these players bounce back from injury could well
determine how well the Padres do in 2003.
Nevin endured two trips to the disabled list last season with a
strained left elbow that sidelined him 14 games and a fractured left humerus
that put him on the shelf for 35 games.
Nevin, who began the season at first base, played in 107 games, batting .285
with 12 home runs and 57 RBIs. Nevin wound up playing third base for much
of the second half of the season as rookie third baseman Sean Burroughs made two
trips to the DL with a strained right shoulder and a month and a half stay
at Triple-A Portland.
Nevin will have to deal with learning yet another position as he is targeted
for the outfield with Burroughs returning to third base.
How well Nevin adjusts to the outfield, whether it be left field or right
field and how well he bounces back offensively, could be a key for the
Burroughs, who was hurt for much of the season, had shoulder surgery in
October and says he is fit and ready to go. Burroughs batted over .300
during the last month of the season and perhaps with a healthy shoulder
could provide more power this season.
Wiki Gonzalez caught in only 56 games last season due to a sore right elbow
in Spring Training, a fractured left hook of hamate, a right hip-flexor
strain and sore throwing elbow.
His injury-plagued season prompted the Padres to seek further help in the
catching department as the team traded Eugene Kingsale to the Detroit Tigers for
catcher Michael Rivera and signed catcher Gary Bennett as a free agent from
the Colorado Rockies.
As Padres GM Kevin Towers noted, "I think it's going to be a fun battle to
watch who's going to be our No. 1 catcher and who's going to be our No. 2
guy coming out of Spring Training."
The battle for the catchers' positions will bear a lot of watching in Peoria
Starters Jarvis and Walker, and closer Hoffman are all coming off
Jarvis was limited to just seven starts in his second season with the Padres
due to a right elbow injury. He underwent surgery on July 9th and is
expected to be ready for Spring Training.
Walker returned to the Major League's last season, just over one year after
having Tommy John ligament transplant surgery on his left elbow on Aug. 2,
2001. He pitched two games before being placed on the DL with left-elbow
tendinitis and was then reactivated on Sept. 1 and pitched well the last
month, striking out 11 in just eight innings.
Walker could emerge as the Padres left-handed setup man.
Hoffman has never been on the DL in his 10-year Major League
career. However, he had surgery in October and while he hasn't started
throwing, he is hoping to be ready for Spring Training.
"That's the one thing that is probably our most concern," said Padres GM
Towers. "You take Trevor out of the back end of our bullpen, it's tough to
fill his shoes.
With the number of players lost last season to injuries and the number of key players returning this season, ready to test their physical status, health is the biggest issue facing the club this spring.
"I would say that the key for us this year is staying healthy," Towers said.
"I would say going in Spring Training our lineup is pretty well set. We have
a few guys changing positions once again with Phil Nevin going to the
outfield. But I look for Nevin to play out there in left field and (Mark)
Kotsay everyday in center field and (Bubba) Trammell and (Brian) Buchanan
probably splitting time in right field.
"The real battle will probably be the catching position among (Michael) Rivera
(Wiki) Gonzalez and (Gary) Bennett. That should probably be the most
competitive position of the every day players," Towers said.
And as the spring season promises, there is reason to be hopeful.
"If we are a healthy ballclub coming out of Spring Training, we should be
much better," Towers said.
Sandy Burgin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the
approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.