CINCINNATI -- The Padres finished the month of July with a 15-11 record, their first winning month since going 16-13 in August of 2010.
The Padres had a 3.57 ERA in July while averaging 4.73 runs per game. But it was more than just statistics that impressed manager Bud Black.
"It shows that we're coming together as a team in a number of areas," Black said. "The continuity of the team has mostly stayed intact. Offense, defense, starting pitching, bullpen, it has all been better overall."
Black said there was a difference in the kind of victories the Padres amassed in July.
"Early in the season, we lost games and didn't get beat," he said. "There's a difference. "Now, I think we are beating other teams. That's a sign of better play."
Baker assumes role of starting catcher
CINCINNATI -- Now that rookie Yasmani Grandal has landed on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle, the bulk of the Padres catching duties falls squarely on the shoulders of John Baker.
And while he lamented the temporary loss of Grandal, Baker said he is embracing this opportunity to play every day.
"It's disappointing that a middle-of-the-order player [Grandal] got hurt, but I'm looking at this as the opportunity to play a lot more," Baker said. "I'm just excited."
Baker got the start behind the plate on Wednesday against the Reds, a night after he reached base on three occasions -- two hits and a walk -- in a 7-6 loss to the Reds.
Baker, who is hitting .266 this season, has seven hits in his last 15 at-bats and is coming off a month that saw him hit .308 in 26 at-bats. He'll get more work in August, as Grandal will miss a minimum of two weeks with the oblique injury.
"The more consistent at-bats I get, the better I hit the ball," Baker said.
San Diego manager Bud Black said he has no qualms about having Baker handle most of the catching duties. He's been impressed with his bat and his ability to handle the Padres pitching staff since Spring Training.
"What he's shown is what we can expect from John," Black said. "This is a good opportunity for him to play."
Ausmus catching on as manager of Team Israel
CINCINNATI -- Brad Ausmus, in his second season as special assistant to the general manager, arrived in Cincinnati on Tuesday after bouncing around the Padres' Minor League affiliates, where he works with catchers in the system.
Ausmus, who retired following the 2010 season after catching 18 seasons in the big leagues, worked with catchers during Spring Training and has now been able to circle back to see how they have progressed.
"It's good to see where they are in relation to where they were four months ago," Ausmus said. "And it also allows me to see if any fine-tuning is needed. Also, it gives me a chance to see other players in our organization."
It's also given Ausmus a chance to see players in other organizations, players who might potentially be a fit for Ausmus' upcoming gig as manager of the Israeli team for September's World Baseball Classic qualifier in Jupiter, Fla.
"We're in the process of planning out the roster," Ausmus said. "We had to pare the list of [potential] players down to 50 and then down again to 28. But because I haven't seen most of these guys, we're creating the roster based on scouting reports and word of mouth."
Team Israel will compete in a four-team qualifier that includes South Africa, Spain and France. The one team that emerges from the qualifier advances to the World Baseball Classic in the spring of 2013.
"I think we should be able to compete," Ausmus said.
Because the qualifier is being held during the regular season, Major League players won't be able to take part, but could play in the spring if Team Israel advances.
"I think it's actually better this way because [in September] Minor Leaguers are just coming off of their season," Ausmus said. "It would be nice to have Major Leaguers involved, but if it were in November, it would be in the middle of their offseason -- except for the teams playing in the World Series."
Pitcher Tim Stauffer, on the disabled list since May 15 with a strained right elbow, made his first Minor League rehab appearance on Tuesday for the Padres' entry in the Arizona League. Stauffer allowed one unearned run in one inning with one strikeout. He threw 19 pitches, all fastballs and changeups. It has yet to be determined when he'll pitch again.
"We're going to follow-up on that tomorrow or later today," Padres manager Bud Black said. "We'll see how he comes out of it and then give him a couple of days off."
Black indicated that Thursday's afternoon game against the Reds might be a good opportunity to give rookie catcher Eddy Rodriguez his first start. Rodriguez, 26, was recalled from Class A Lake Elsinore Tuesday. The game Thursday -- scheduled for 9:35 a.m. PT -- is a day game after a night game, a start that often falls to the backup catcher.