Kemp, Kennedy lead new-look Padres in home opener vs Giants
SAN DIEGO (AP) It's been a long time since San Diego Padres fans had this many reasons to be optimistic.
Matt Kemp is hitting third, Justin Upton is batting cleanup and Craig Kimbrel is closing. A massive new video board in left field will be showing it all in HD.
The Padres play their home opener Thursday afternoon, when Ian Kennedy is scheduled to start against Tim Hudson and the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
Fans got a sneak preview last Saturday during a FanFest that included an exhibition game against the Mexico City Red Devils.
The players have noticed how hungry the fans are for a winning season.
''It's amazing to see the atmosphere out here at Petco,'' said Kemp, one of several former All-Stars added to the roster during general manager A.J. Preller's aggressive offseason revamp.
''It says a lot,'' Kemp added. ''I've been here the whole offseason and just been hearing how excited the Padres fans have been. I didn't think it would be quite this much but just from driving to the stadium and seeing everybody outside waiting to get into the ballpark was pretty amazing.''
Preller added Kemp, Upton, Wil Myers, Will Middlebrooks, Derek Norris and James Shields in an offseason frenzy. Preller was busy right up until hours before opening day, adding Kimbrel and Upton's older brother, Melvin, in another blockbuster deal.
The Padres opened the season with three games at Los Angeles, Kemp's former team.
''We've been talking about it all spring, since December, all the players are excited about playing in San Diego and I know the fans are really excited, the most excited they've been in a while,'' Kennedy said. ''For myself, playing in L.A. and then coming here in front of our fans will be a lot of fun. It's going to be electric. We're playing the Giants, so it will be even more so.''
The Padres finished at the bottom of the majors last year with a .226 average, .292 on-base percentage and 535 runs. Their 109 homers were the second fewest in the baseball.
Now they've got players who've hit well at spacious Petco Park, albeit as visitors.
''I've always liked Petco Park,'' Kemp said. ''It's a beautiful park and you can see the ball well there. So I've never had a problem playing there. It was always a great atmosphere.
''I'm not worried about the dimensions,'' he said. ''I never worry about dimensions in any ballpark, man. I just go out there and whatever happens, happens.''
Manager Bud Black agrees.
''I like Matt Kemp in any park. It doesn't matter. He's a good hitter. If you look at Matt Kemp's career numbers in Petco, Justin Upton's career numbers in Petco and Clint Barmes' career numbers in Petco, we have a lot of guys who have hit good in our park as opposing players. And that's a good thing. I mean, we've had good pitching staffs, too, and Matt's hit good pitchers. So he likes it in our park, and that bodes well.''
Barmes is the new shortstop.
''The first game at home is going to be exciting no matter who we play,'' Barmes said. ''But when you throw the World Series champions on top of that, it's going to bring a little bit more excitement to the ballpark and in the clubhouse, and with the fans as well.''
The Padres have also punched up Petco Park, which opened in 2004. They spent about $12 million on a new HD video board, the biggest in the NL and third-biggest in MLB.
The Giants are already beset by injuries.
All-Star pitcher Matt Cain was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right forearm injury on Tuesday. Jake Peavy has a back problem that flared up during his bullpen session and could affect his ability to make his scheduled start on Sunday. And first baseman Brandon Belt strained his groin going after a foul ball and had to leave Tuesday's game.
''Really, it's probably something that's difficult to do, three players,'' manager Bruce Bochy said. ''We have one first baseman (Travis Ishikawa) on the DL. We're hoping Belt's fine. We're going through a rash right now. Some things you can't explain. I haven't been through what we're going through right now. No question, we'll have to have guys on alert. We'll have to get something rolling here.''
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