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Padres open season with high expectations, busy DL

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The San Diego Padres open the 2014 season Sunday night, celebrating the 10th anniversary of quirky Petco Park, hosting the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, with two-thirds of their starting outfield and their top offseason pitching acquisition on the disabled list.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Padres, who have hopes of contending in the National League West, should have a reasonably competitive team -- if some things go right.

Little did last season, when they led the majors in most days lost to injury. They also lost two key performers -- shortstop Everth Cabrera and catcher Yasmani Grandal -- to MLB-imposed suspensions after their names turned up in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing-drugs scandal.

That's all behind them now, but former all-star pitcher Josh Johnson is on the DL with a forearm strain that could ease in a couple weeks or be a foreboding reminder of last season, when Johnson, with the Blue Jays, was ineffective and injured, eventually giving way to elbow surgery.

Likewise, the Padres open without left fielder and presumed cleanup hitter Carlos Quentin (bruised post-surgical knee) and center fielder Cameron Maybin, who ruptured a biceps tendon diving for a ball this spring.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, will be without staff ace Clayton Kershaw, who returned to the United States with a sore back after pitching the his team's opener in Australia.

Influenced by the recent injuries, the Padres finalized their Opening Night roster by adding infielder/outfielder Xavier Nady and rookie outfielder Tommy Medica. And their off-season addition of outfielder Seth Smith looks better all the time.

With Grandal recovering from ACL surgery, the Padres will carry three catchers. Veteran Nick Hundley will split time with Grandal, while Rene Rivera provides insurance.

The pitching staff doesn't have any big names but keeps the Padres in most games, especially at pitcher-friendly Petco. Hard-throwing Andrew Cashner (10-9, 3.09 ERA in 2013) starts Sunday and is expected to blossom into a frontline pitcher. The rest of the solid rotation includes Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross and left-hander Eric Stults. With Johnson hurt, Donn Roach was added to the staff as a long reliever who could be used as a fifth starter.

Regular outfielders Will Venable and Chris Denorfia return for their right-field platoon; both are currently nursing tender backs and may not start Sunday against Dodgers lefty Hyun Jin Ryu.

The infield is San Diego's strength. Cabrera, last year's lone All-Star Game representative, was the team's best player when he was suspended in August. He was leading the NL in stolen bases at the time, and led the league in steals in 2012. Second baseman Jedd Gyorko hit 23 homers as a rookie while switching from third base. Scouts believe he has upside to hit 30 homers. First baseman Yonder Alonso, who lost considerable time with a broken hand in 2013, is a solid line-drive hitter and improving fielder.

That brings us to third baseman Chase Headley, the league's RBI king in 2012 who suffered a Humpty Dumpty-type fall last year. Injured much of the season, Headley dropped off from 31 homers to 13 and 115 RBI to 50.

Acknowledged as the team's best all-around player, Headley can be a free agent after the season and both sides have put off contract talks. If he starts slowly, Headley could be dealt in midseason. If he flashes his 2013 form, Headley could help the Padres contend and win himself a big contract, either in San Diego (his preference) or elsewhere.

For backup, the Padres have supersub Alexi Amarista. And down on the farm, perennial job seeker Kyle Blanks waits for his chance.

As the season opens with modestly high expectations, maybe all the Padres need is for baseball fans everywhere to drink to their health.

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