PEORIA, Ariz. -- The San Diego Padres have developed a reputation in recent years as a haven for command-and-control pitchers in search of a career jump-start. Kevin Correia, Randy Wolf, Jon Garland and Jason Marquis are among the veteran starters who've passed through Petco Park and enjoyed the opportunity to work under manager Bud Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley.
The San Diego staff has a different feel to it this spring. At the top of the rotation, the Padres are big and imposing and have the type of stuff that can make for a very uncomfortable day in the batter's box.
Andrew Cashner, acquired from the Cubs in the Anthony Rizzo trade two years ago, stands at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds and ranked fifth among MLB starters in average fastball velocity last year (behind Matt Harvey, Stephen Strasburg, Jose Fernandez and Wily Peralta) at 94.9 mph. Tyson Ross, who came over from Oakland by trade in November 2012, stands at 6-6, 230 and also has the ability to make a catcher's mitt pop. In December, a RotoGraphs analysis referred to him as "The New Andrew Cashner."
In November, the Padres added to the mix by signing Josh Johnson (6-7, 250) to a one-year, guaranteed $8 million deal with performance bonuses based on games started. Johnson's injury problems have been well-documented, and he was a mess last year in Toronto. But he's only 30 years old, and if he can come close to regaining his 2010 form, when he led the National League with a 2.30 ERA and averaged more than a strikeout per inning for the Marlins, he could be a hot commodity on the free-agent market next winter.
If Cashner, Ross and Johnson are healthy and dealing, they'll induce enough swings and misses that they won't have to rely on the spacious environs of Petco Park as an equalizer. The Padres moved in the fences last year and Petco was still the 30th toughest run-scoring venue in the majors, according to ESPN.com's ballpark factors.
"We have guys who are physical and guys with stuff," Black said. "They throw hard, they have good breaking pitches and they throw the ball downhill. We didn't really plan it that way, but it's good to see."
The Padres' rotation also includes lefty Eric Stults, a 200-inning guy in 2013, and Ian Kennedy, who is trying to regain the form that allowed him to go 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and finish fourth in NL Cy Young award balloting in 2011. After Kennedy arrived in San Diego by trade from Arizona in July, Balsley gave him a little more of a leg kick and a hip turn, raised his arm angle slightly to help prevent him from getting underneath his pitches, and urged him to focus on establishing his fastball. Kennedy struck out 55 batters in 57 1/3 innings in San Diego, and now the Padres will see if he can carry over some of that momentum to 2014.
The Padres have a second wave of young starters in Robbie Erlin, Joe Wieland, Burch Smith, Casey Kelly and Matt Wisler, so they have some depth in case something happens to one of their projected top five. The only bad news this spring came right before the start of camp, when it was determined that lefty Cory Luebke will need a second Tommy John surgery.
"That was personally tough," Black said. "We're just crossing our fingers that he can come out of this one and add something to our club."