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Strong infield defense shows mettle in loss

MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres' new-and-improved infield defense wasted no time making its presence felt on Thursday afternoon.

First, it was Chase Headley with a slick pick to start a double play in the top of the first inning. Then, it was Freddy Galvis making an acrobatic stop-and-flip for another twin-killing an inning later. Throw in a pair of impressive turns by second baseman Carlos Asuaje, and -- even in a 2-1 loss to Milwaukee -- the Padres' infield made its case that it's destined for a turnaround in 2018.

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SAN DIEGO -- The Padres' new-and-improved infield defense wasted no time making its presence felt on Thursday afternoon.

First, it was Chase Headley with a slick pick to start a double play in the top of the first inning. Then, it was Freddy Galvis making an acrobatic stop-and-flip for another twin-killing an inning later. Throw in a pair of impressive turns by second baseman Carlos Asuaje, and -- even in a 2-1 loss to Milwaukee -- the Padres' infield made its case that it's destined for a turnaround in 2018.

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"Today, [the infield defense] showed up big," said starter Clayton Richard. "It changed the complexion of the game. When that happens -- and it's going to happen consistently, because those guys are those types of players -- it's a great asset for us to have."

Video: MIL@SD: Headley starts 5-4-3 DP with stellar defense

It's an especially useful asset for Richard, who pitched seven innings of one-run ball in the Padres' 12-inning defeat. Richard finished second in the National League in ground-ball rate last season -- trailing only teammate Luis Perdomo.

The Padres boasted the Majors' most ground-ball happy rotation a year ago. With a sub-par infield, Perdomo and Richard both slumped to ERAs above 4.50. The club has maintained that the entire staff should see a boost this season with improved glovework behind them.

Video: MIL@SD: Richard K's four in strong Opening Day outing

San Diego began its season on Thursday with four infielders who weren't on last year's Opening Day roster, including three -- Galvis, Headley and Eric Hosmer -- who arrived during the offseason.

"It's going to be pretty good," Galvis said of the Padres' infield. "We have a group of good players that can play good defense, and I think we showed it today."

Galvis -- who arrived via trade with Philadelphia in December -- is the presumed game-changer of the bunch. He's a clear upgrade after three seasons of limited range veterans Clint Barmes, Alexei Ramirez and Erick Aybar.

On Thursday, Galvis made a nice offensive contribution with a walk and two hits, including his dramatic game-tying single with two outs in the ninth. That qualifies as something of a bonus. Make no mistake, Galvis was brought on board primarily for his defense, and he's more than happy to play behind a handful of ground-ball specialists.

Video: MIL@SD: Galvis delivers late game-tying single in 9th

"It's fun man," Galvis said. "Be ready. Be ready every single pitch, man. You're going to get a lot of opportunities, so you've got to work hard and be ready."

Defensively, the Padres made the most of their opportunities on Thursday. At the plate, they did not, stranding eight runners and mustering only six hits over 12 innings.

"We have to keep playing our defense," Galvis said. "Everybody knows the hits and homers are going to come."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Freddy Galvis, Chase Headley