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03/10/11 2:01 PM EST

'New vibe' has Padres clicking this spring

At halfway mark in camp, fifth spot in rotation remains open

PEORIA, Ariz. -- As catcher Nick Hundley glanced around the clubhouse early Thursday, he didn't have to search too long before seeing a new face.

There was Cameron Maybin and Jorge Cantu talking in one corner. And to his immediate right, Hundley saw Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett sitting on stools in front of their lockers.

"It does feel like a new team," Hundley said. "It's a good thing, too. It's a new team and a new vibe. With these guys, it's a totally different vibe."

The introductory handshakes from a month ago are long gone, though with three weeks remaining before Opening Day in St. Louis on March 31, the Padres are still attempting to help many of their new faces get acclimated.

So far, so good, manager Bud Black said.

"These guys are working their way into more at-bats and working through fundamentals and our terminology," Black said. "There's still a lot to cover for position players.

"But overall, we've been pleased with the shape guys are in, their work ethic, how they are interacting ... all of those things point in the right direction."

It's been a relatively quiet camp for the Padres, though veteran catcher Gregg Zaun opted to retire earlier in the week when it became apparent that his surgically repaired shoulder wasn't responding the way he wanted.

What we've learned: Tim Stauffer's big final month of the season in 2010 wasn't a fluke. Stauffer has been impressive in camp and his changeup, a pitch that he has worked to develop, could be a fourth pitch for him. Also, Chase Headley, a switch-hitter, has looked good in a small sample size against left-handed pitching. Will Venable, who could see time in the leadoff spot, has shortened his stride and has a shorter path to the ball. He's hitting .350 with three doubles and a home run. "Now is the time for him to hopefully put it all together and display all of his talents," Black said. Hudson and Bartlett look comfortable with each other and offer better up-the-middle defense than the Padres have had in the past. Brad Hawpe's swing looks good and he's looked smooth in his return to his natural position (first base).

What to watch: The race for the No. 5 spot in the rotation is open. The Padres would like lefty Wade LeBlanc to seize it and slide Dustin Moseley into long relief, but Moseley has been sharp so far. Lefty Cory Luebke, who appeared destined to begin the season in Triple-A, has impressed the staff thus far. Maybe this will be a three-man race after all. Also, two of the top prospects the Padres received in the Adrian Gonzalez deal -- first baseman Anthony Rizzo and pitcher Casey Kelly -- look like the real deal. Kelly has impressed with his plus fastball, command of his secondary pitches and ability to change speeds. Rizzo is hitting .308 and showed opposite-field power with a home run to left on Wednesday. Both players will start the season in the Minors, although they could move fast. "They're going to be good players," Black said.

Unfinished business: Even after Zaun's retirement earlier in the week, the Padres still feel good about the three catchers they have in camp with Major League service time -- Rob Johnson, Kyle Phillips and Guillermo Quiroz. That said, the Padres will keep their eyes open to see if a catcher they like gets cuts later in the month. The same applies to a utility infielder, someone who can play shortstop. That might actually be a more pressing need than finding a catcher.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.