Notes: Young seeks to improve
Hensley OK after early exit; Black pleased with defense
PHOENIX -- To a man, every player says that he thinks he has the ability to get better each season.
But when you finished sixth in the league in ERA last year, like right-hander Chris Young did, it makes you take notice when he talks about his areas for improvement.
"It's always a work in progress," said the 6-foot-10 Young, who posted a 3.46 mark in 2006. "I'm still trying to refine my mechanics, and get more efficient and more consistent."
The conventional baseball wisdom is that pitchers whose heights are in the upper-six-foot range have more difficulty repeating their deliveries, a notion that Young doesn't dispute.
"It's one of the challenges that taller pitchers face, but it's also a great advantage being tall when everything is in sync," said Young, who sought the advice of another tall pitcher, Randy Johnson, when he was with the Rangers.
Because of Young's height and the fact that he comes straight over the top when he delivers the ball, he can get away with the high fastball more than other pitchers, because batters often think that because of the angle, the ball is going to end up lower in the strike zone than it actually does.
"When you have longer arms and legs, it can be tougher to synchronize those on every pitch," said manager Bud Black. "Because of his size, it can get away from him. It's more difficult than for a guy of average stature.
"He has good hand-eye coordination and good athleticism," Black continued, referencing Young's Division I basketball background at Princeton, "and a tremendous aptitude to understand what he has to do."
Young wasn't concerned about his final tuneup on Friday against the Diamondbacks, in which he allowed five unearned runs and walked four in 2 2/3 innings.
"My stuff was good," he said. "I had a great spring compared to last year. My stuff is a lot better, and I'm not worried about my mechanics like I was last spring."
"His mechanics did get away from him a little bit, especially on his secondary pitches, but he'll be fine," said Black.
No worries: Clay Hensley had to leave Saturday's game after 1 2/3 innings because of a blood blister on a finger of his pitching hand, but he doesn't expect it to be an issue for his first start of the regular season.
"It should be fine by my next outing," said Hensley, who left after 46 pitches. "I wanted to stay in, but it started affecting my control a bit. I got my work in, and I think we did the right thing. My arm will be fresh for the next time out."
Flashing leather: Black is very pleased with how his defense is shaping up.
"Our defense, especially up the middle with [Mike] Cameron, [Khalil] Greene and [Marcus] Giles, should be one of our strengths," said the skipper. "I think we'll be outstanding."
One player whose defense has been somewhat surprising this spring is new third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff. Kouzmanoff was acquired from Cleveland in the deal involving Josh Barfield for his offensive potential, which Black says has been "as advertised," but his glove has turned some heads this spring.
"On the defensive side, we didn't really know much going in," said Black, "but he's been really solid. He's made all the plays, he really has."
Kouzmanoff made just his second error of camp in Friday's game, on a popup in the sun. His only other error this month was on a low throw that a reserve first baseman could not scoop.
It's been a nice reward for a player who took ground ball after ground ball indoors this winter in Colorado with three-foot snowdrifts outside.
"I've been playing [at third] my whole career, so I'm comfortable there," said Kouzmanoff, who actually spent the Arizona Fall League playing first base before being traded to the Padres. "I've always tried to take as much pride in my defense as I do my offense."
"He's surprised me," said one National League scout. "He can stick at third defensively."
All systems go: All signs point to Cameron (strained hamstring) being in the Opening Day lineup.
"We expect he'll be ready," said Black.
Cameron is scheduled to get some at-bats in a simulated game situation on Sunday. Greg Maddux, David Wells and Trevor Hoffman will all be throwing.
Up next: It's time for the games to start counting. The Padres will be at AT&T Park on Tuesday afternoon to open the regular season against the Giants. Jake Peavy will take the mound against San Francisco's Barry Zito. First pitch is scheduled for 1:35 p.m. PT.
Jason Grey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.