Black believes Headley poised for big 2014 season

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Third baseman Chase Headley has had more good days than bad since he strained his right calf in an infield drill Feb. 22.

To be sure, Monday was a good day.

Headley was able to hit in the batting cage for the first time since suffering the injury. A switch-hitter, Headley was only allowed to hit left-handed so he wouldn't put too much stress on the calf. But this was a step ahead in his rehabilitation.

"It's feeling great," he said. "As the doctor said, it's as good as we can ask for."

Headley suffered the injury in a rundown drill earlier in camp and an MRI showed that he had a Grade 1 strain of the gastrocnemius muscle, which is one of three muscles in the calf.

Headley said the pain started to subside almost immediately, and the crutches he used shortly after the injury to protect the calf were gone by the second day.

At this rate, Headley could possibly return to action by mid-month, which is still plenty of time for him to get his work in before Opening Day on March 30 against the Dodgers.

Headley, in the past, has estimated that he only needs 15-20 at-bats from each side of the plate before he's ready for the regular season.

The Padres have used several players at third base in Headley's absence, including Ryan Jackson, who got the start there Monday against the Giants. Jackson is trying to make the Opening Day roster as a reserve infielder. He's impressed the coaching staff at shortstop, too.

Johnson pleased with first Padres spring start

Johnson talks about choosing San Diego

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Josh Johnson paused Monday when he was asked how long it had been since he felt as good, as comfortable, standing on a Major League mound.

"Probably last Spring Training," he said. "Even though I threw the ball well last Spring Training, I didn't feel right. I didn't have my normal delivery. Everything went haywire after that."

Johnson is hopeful that won't be the case this year with the Padres, as he was encouraged by his two-inning stint against the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium. The Padres beat San Francisco, 7-2.

Johnson tossed two scoreless innings with two strikeouts and showed a dandy changeup in his 22-pitch outing that included 15 strikes.

"Overall, I feel a lot closer to where I was in 2009, 2010, '11," said Johnson, who led the National League in ERA (2.30) in 2010 while a member of the Marlins.

"I thought his delivery looked good, he repeated his delivery and it really looked as though his mechanics are in order," said manager Bud Black. "Just the way he's been throwing, I expected some good things."

Johnson estimated that he threw five changeups and three sliders Monday. The changeup is a pitch he's using more. He's had a good tutor in Padres camp in former San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman, the team's first-year upper-level pitching coordinator.

"That's probably the best my changeup has been since I was in the Minor Leagues," he said. "I've talked to [Hoffman] about his thinking with it and what he does; maybe something can click."

From the sound of it, something already has with Johnson, who has worked closely with pitching coach Darren Balsley since before camp started on creating a more downhill plane with great extension in his delivery.

It's a far cry from where he was last season with the Blue Jays, when he had a 6.20 ERA and needed surgery after the season to remove bone chips from his right elbow.

"Everything is starting to feel comfortable again," Johnson said. "I'm not fighting myself, not fighting my body. I'm just trying to get out there and be able to repeat my delivery. It's a lot easier. I have command of my fastball and know where it's going."

Short hops

• The Padres announced Monday that they have agreed to terms with 22 players on contracts for the upcoming season -- pitchers Jesse Hahn, Casey Kelly, Donn Roach, Keyvius Sampson, Burch Smith, Dale Thayer, Nick Vincent, Joe Wieland; Robbie Erlin, Juan Oramas, Patrick Schuster and Alex Torres; catchers Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera; infielders Yonder Alonso, Alexi Amarista, Jedd Gyorko, Ryan Jackson and Tommy Medica; and outfielders Yeison Asencio, Reymond Fuentes and Rymer Liriano.