Notes: Padres hurlers want contact
Young, Hensley learning from vets impact of bat hitting ball
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Padres pitcher Chris Young was among the National League leaders in several notable categories in 2006: baserunners per nine innings (10.49), opponents' average with runners in scoring position (.176) and opponents' batting average (.206), to name a few.
But for as good as Young was, there's one particular category that he likely doesn't want to lead the Major Leagues in again this year.
Last season, Young tied then-Seattle pitcher Gil Meche for the most pitches thrown per plate appearance (4.13). And while Young (3.46 ERA) wasn't penalized nearly as much as Meche (4.48), the fact remained that he wasn't nearly as efficient as he could have been.
He's working on that this spring, and he credits his improved changeup as the pitch that will help him get to a point where he's pitching to contact earlier in the count than he did last season.
"Last year I used it pretty consistently throughout the year and it's something I want to continue to do," Young said. "I think it's something that will allow me to get my count down a little bit and pitch to contract a little more instead of so many foul balls or going deep in counts. If I can get early contact on that pitch, that's the idea."
It seems the buzzword in a lot of Major League camps these days is "pitching to contact," something that makes Padres manager Bud Black, himself a former pitcher, smile.
"I don't think that we're saying anything differently than the other 29 clubs ... we're not revolutionary there," Black said. "It's throwing strikes, being pitch efficient and getting hitters to swing early. We talk about it a lot."
But the beauty of having veteran pitchers Greg Maddux and David Wells on the staff is that Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley don't have to do all the preaching. Rather, young pitchers like Young, Jake Peavy and Clay Hensley can watch the way guys like Maddux and Wells focus on pitch efficiency.
"Having a couple of older guys who have pitched for 20 years, hopefully that will rub off on our other starters," Black said. "Experience is the best teacher. You talk about it until they realize it. I think the more you talk about it, eventually it sinks in. That's what we're hoping."
Like Young, Hensley is mindful of pitching to contact. And also like Young, he's willing to do that more using his changeup this season, a pitch that he mixed in during the second half of the season when he posted a 2.66 ERA.
In fact, Hensley relied on fastballs and changeups during his two-inning scoreless stint in a 1-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday at the Peoria Sports Complex.
"I need to keep in my mind that I need to pitch to contact and not do too much," he said, "and allow my infielders and outfielders to play the game. We've got a lot of good guys back there."
Help from within: Black said Saturday that while the left-field job is every bit as muddled as it was when camp opened, he's convinced that the eventual winner of that job is in camp and that the team won't have to look outside to fill that spot.
"Doing some forward thinking, we have a solution out of one of those guys," Black said.
Terrmel Sledge, Jose Cruz Jr. and Paul McAnulty are in the mix to win the job. Sledge appears to be the nice option at the top of the order and in left field, though the job won't be simply handed to him.
"Terrmel has proven, even though it was a couple of years ago, that he can play in the Major Leagues and be productive," Black said. "He had a nice year with Montreal. He's been a guy who has done it and we still think there's that ability to perform."
Sledge certainly didn't hurt his chances Saturday, as he accounted for the game's lone run with a first-inning home run off Seattle's Jarrod Washburn. Sledge later added a single in the third inning.
Familiar face: There was a Todd Greene sighting in the Padres' clubhouse after Saturday's victory over the Mariners, as the veteran catcher returned from Atlanta, where he has been rehabilitating the dislocated right shoulder he injured on Feb. 21.
The 35-year-old Greene, a non-roster invitee, injured his shoulder during a drill and has to wear a sling for at least another week, when he'll be reevaluated by team doctors.
"At that time I should be able to start moving it around," said Greene, who opted for the rehabilitation route instead of surgery.
Greene, who has a shot at making the team as the third catcher and a right-handed bat off the bench, said he's proud that he hasn't pushed himself to return quicker as he might have done as a younger player.
"My body is working good," Greene said. "I'm not going to screw it up at this point."
Padres log: Sales were brisk on the first day of single-game tickets Saturday, as four games at PETCO Park sold out within the first 90 minutes. The home opener against Colorado on April 6 sold out, as well as the three-game series against the Boston Red Sox on June 22-24. ... Minor League pitchers and catchers have reported to Peoria. They will hold their first workout on Sunday with position players reporting on Friday. ... Maddux will make his Cactus League debut on Sunday against Oakland. He's scheduled to throw two innings with Cla Meredith, Doug Brocail, Andrew Brown, Ryan Ketchner, Trevor Hoffman, Jack Cassel and Scott Cassidy also scheduled to appear. ... Geoff Blum appeared in his first game of the spring, going 0-for-2 as the starting first baseman. Black said the lower-back issues that curtailed Blum's activity for about a week didn't present any problems. ... Pitcher Scott Linebrink, who had a root canal earlier in the week, as well as some back stiffness, tossed a scoreless inning Saturday with one strikeout.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.