Going .500 would be improvement for Padres after '15 fizzle

SAN DIEGO (AP) It's already shaping up to be another long, dreary summer for San Diego Padres fans, interrupted only by the first All-Star Game here in 24 years.

Ownership has tried to dispel the notion that the team is rebuilding after general manager A.J. Preller's quick-fix attempt of a year ago fizzled.

Still, it isn't exactly giving the ballsquad a rousing endorsement.

''I'm hoping we'll be better than .500,'' executive chairman Ron Fowler said during an interview with the team's flagship radio station.

Then again, that would be an improvement from last year, when the Padres went 74-88, winning three fewer games than the previous season despite having their first player payroll above $100 million.

The Padres finished fourth in the NL West, behind three-time division champion Los Angeles, San Francisco and Arizona, and aren't expected to challenge this year. It's more likely that their postseason drought will reach a decade.

Many of the players Preller acquired the previous offseason return: right fielder Matt Kemp, catcher Derek Norris, right-hander James Shields and Wil Myers, who will move to first base after missing much of last season with a wrist injury.

''I think it works. We just have to go play,'' Preller said. ''I think it's definitely a little bit less expectation-wise, you get that sense nationwide, but I think the expectation in this clubhouse is that we're going to be a good team. ... We've got some pieces.''

Gone are left fielder Justin Upton and right-hander Ian Kennedy, who left as free agents, and relievers Craig Kimbrel and Joaquin Benoit, who were dealt for prospects to rebuild the farm system Preller ravaged in his previous year's dealings.

The Padres will be playing for rookie manager Andy Green.

Here are some things to look for with the Padres, who open at home Monday against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.

WHAT HAPPENED? Shields and Preller contend that it takes more than one season for a team to jell. ''Last year, maybe it was a little too much, too soon with a lot of new faces, but ultimately I'm looking forward to this year, having a team that jells and creates that chemistry from Day One,'' Preller said.

HORSES FOR COURSES: The offensively challenged Padres need their top three starting pitchers, Tyson Ross, Shields and Andrew Cashner, to carry the load. Cashner struggled last year, going 6-16 with a 4.34 ERA. Ross walked an MLB-high 84 batters and Shields allowed 33 homers, tops in the NL.

BLASHTOFF: There were indications in the final days of spring training that young slugger Jabari Blash, obtained in the December draft, would make the opening day lineup rather than be offered back to the Seattle Mariners. He hit a team-leading six homers and drove in 10 runs in 26 spring games, but also struck out 20 times and hit just .213.

UP THE MIDDLE: One thing that hurt the Padres last year was their defense up the middle. The Padres didn't have an established shortstop and opening day center fielder Wil Myers missed much of the season with a wrist injury. Preller's biggest offseason acquisition was veteran shortstop Alexei Ramirez. He's 34 and struggled offensively last year with the Chicago White Sox, but was an All-Star in 2014 and is a defensive upgrade. Jon Jay, obtained from St. Louis for second baseman Jedd Gyorko, is expected to be the center fielder.

NEW PLACES-NEW FACES: Myers has switched from center field to first base, where he replaces Yonder Alonso. Myers did some work over the winter in San Diego with Mark McGwire, the team's new bench coach. Myers, the AL Rookie of the Year with Tampa Bay in 2013, said he's excited about the switch and hopes to get 600 plate appearances. He had only 253 last year. With Kimbrel gone, the Padres signed Fernando Rodney to close. Rodney went from having 48 saves with Seattle and making the All-Star team in 2014 to having 16 last season before being traded to the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 27. He's known for pretending to shoot an arrow into the sky after getting a save.

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Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson

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