05/04/2013 9:27 PM ET
Padres' defense has drastically improved
By Scott Bair / Special to MLB.com
SAN DIEGO -- In 2012, the Padres committed 29 errors in the first 29 games. This season, the Padres have cut that number by more than half.
They made 12 miscues in the same span, a vast improvement that has kept the Padres from hurting themselves.
Defense hasn't been spectacular, but it has been solid. That's what manager Bud Black truly cares about.
"The focus since the spring has been on playing sound, fundamental baseball," Black said. "This year, our defense has improved at all positions. We're doing the routine things right. We're not looking for great plays. We're looking for steadiness. We're looking for outs that should be recorded, and we're getting that."
The Padres have received quality defensive play from shortstop Everth Cabrera and second baseman Jedd Gyorko, both of whom weren't with the team during 2012's early defensive struggles. But, even the players who were around last year are making smarter decisions in the field.
"Errors generally come from people trying to make too great a play in situations of risk," Black said. "I believe we've avoided those issues because of what happened in April and May of last year."
Black's pregame comments might have jinxed his Padres, because they made two errors out of routine plays in Saturday's 8-1 loss to Arizona. Pitcher Clayton Richard allowed a run to score on an errant throw to first in the second inning, and Cabrera pulled first baseman Yonder Alonso off the bag with a poor throw in the sixth.
Everth gets right from right side
SAN DIEGO -- Left-handed pitchers used to give Everth Cabrera fits. The Padres shortstop struggled mightily against southpaws despite being a switch-hitter, and it ate away at his confidence last season.
Hit couldn't pull the ball effectively. He couldn't recognize pitches. In short, nothing went right from the right.
Frustration didn't help results, which were dreadful by the end of the season. Cabrera hit .195 from the right side in 2012, with just five extra-base hits and 36 strikeouts.
It was a strike against someone who hates riding pine, a reason for manager Bud Black to leave him out of the lineup.
Cabrera wanted to play all 162 games, so he devoted an offseason to fixing the problem. He worked incessantly from the right side, at a Los Angeles performance center and in hitting coach Phil Plantier's backyard.
During that time, Cabrera's weakness became a strength. He's hitting .333 from the right side this season, including a 2-for-4 performance in Friday night's 7-6 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"For the first time in a while, I feel confident stepping to the plate as a righty," Cabrera said. "I'm seeing the ball so much better from that side. I can recognize pitches so much better, and it helps everything I do.
"I have a shorter swing than I used to, but it's my mindset more than anything. My goal is to hit it up the middle or slap it the other way. That's my focus, and it's allowed me to use the whole field and find holes in the defense."
Black believes pitch recognition was key to this renaissance.
"The breaking ball gave Everth quite a bit of trouble his first couple of years, especially from the right side," he said. "He's cleaned that up, and he's learned the importance of putting the ball in play. He's made big strides, and it's good to see his hard work paying off."
It's put Cabrera in all 30 games this season, leaving him in line to achieve an ultimate goal.
"I want to play 162 games," Cabrera said. "I want to be there for my team every single day, and the only way I can do that is to hit well from both sides of the plate."
Street is thriving despite close calls
SAN DIEGO -- Padres right-hander Huston Street is 7-for-7 in save situations.
That's the good news and, in the end, that's all that really matters to a closer. But there are some troubling trends just beneath the surface.
Street has a 4.50 ERA. He's given up 14 hits in 12 innings and walked four more. He's given up four home runs, including a three-run shot that made Friday night's 7-6 win over Arizona a close call.
The numbers offer stark contrast to last season's performance, when opponents hit .130 against Street and hit just two home runs in 39 innings.
Street acknowledges the spike in opposing production. He just doesn't care.
"The home runs and the hits bother everybody else. As a closer, I care about saves," Street said. "When you're 7-for-7, how much have the big hits really affected things? If you get the save, that other stuff effects nothing but your ego, and that's only if you let it. I don't. I ask myself one question: Did you get the save or not? I'll be worried about that one thing for the next five months."
Street understands that he's made some mistakes with location. He has left some pitches up in the zone and been punished for it, but counters that there's no cause for panic.
"You're always trying to get better, and I'm definitely working on things and refining some others," Street said. "I feel like I've been unlucky in that my mistakes have gone over the fence. Mistakes can go for doubles or get fouled off or get hit right to someone and my ERA looks a lot different.
I'm not going to frown over 12 innings or four mistakes that went over the fence, not when the job's getting done."
Padres manager Bud Black would like his closer to stay out of dangerous situations, and believes Street can do so with more consistent mechanics. That will keep the ball down in the zone and out of harm's way, as it was when Street converted 23 saves in 24 chances last season.
"We know why this is happening," Black said. "The bad pitches are elevated, and he's been forced into throwing attractive pitches after getting into bad counts.
"The internal numbers are a little off, but I don't worry about Huston one bit. It's a little bit mechanics, a little bit confidence. It's nothing that won't get fixed."
• Padres left fielder Carlos Quentin, who was scratched Friday due to knee soreness, started Saturday's game. Black said Quentin tweaked his right knee, which has given the slugger trouble since the spring, while running the bases.
• Infielder James Darnell, injured since the spring with an oblique strain, was reinstated from the 15-day disabled list following a rehab assignment. He was immediately optioned to Triple-A Tucson.
Scott Bair is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.