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Pirela's torrid spring invigorates SD roster races

Padres begin work on extending protective netting at Petco Park
March 12, 2018

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Come Opening Day, Jose Pirela will be on the Padres' roster -- it's merely a matter of where he'll play and how often.On Monday, manager Andy Green hinted that there's no likely scenario in which Pirela -- arguably the Padres' best hitter last season -- isn't on

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Come Opening Day, Jose Pirela will be on the Padres' roster -- it's merely a matter of where he'll play and how often.
On Monday, manager Andy Green hinted that there's no likely scenario in which Pirela -- arguably the Padres' best hitter last season -- isn't on the roster and playing regularly when the season begins.
"Based on what he's done in Spring Training this year, he's been the same guy," Green said. "Plus, you just love the fire he brings to the game. It's going to be hard to supplant him in the lineup, but he can bounce to a couple different positions."
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Pirela has posted an absurd .481/.559/.889 Cactus League slash line, including a pair of homers and four more extra-base hits. He's spent time between second base and left field, though he's more comfortable in the latter position.
Second base has proven challenging for Pirela this spring. He's looked awkward there at times -- including a play Sunday in which he booted a routine grounder, yet the ball somehow ended up at first base for the out anyway. The Padres had counted on a smoother transition, given Green's desire for lineup flexibility.
In Cory Spangenberg and Carlos Asuaje, two lefty-hitting second basemen are likely battling for one roster spot. Ideally, the Padres would platoon Pirela with the winner of that second-base job, leaving left field open for Hunter Renfroe against left-handed pitching. (Renfroe wore out lefties last season, and he's done so his entire professional career.)

It wouldn't be a hard-and-fast platoon. The Padres boast one of the Majors' most ground-ball heavy rotations, including sinkerballer Clayton Richard -- and potentially Luis Perdomo and Tyson Ross if they can win jobs. When they're pitching, Green might opt for defense over offense at second base.
More than anything, Green is satisfied merely to have so many big league-caliber options in the first place. In the outfield, Renfroe isn't locked into his spot yet. He's in a four-way battle for two places with Travis Jankowski, Franchy Cordero and Matthew Szczur.
"This is what roster races are supposed to look like," Green said. "This time you're looking at the bottom part of the roster, and you're talking about baseball players that have earned their way to the big leagues and have hit at Triple-A. Those are problems championship organizations have, and you're starting to see that in a few areas."
Net extension plans announced
The Padres began work on extending the net behind home plate at Petco Park on Monday. The protective netting will extend to section 115 on the first-base line and 116 on the third-base line.
Last month, Major League Baseball announced plans for all 30 of its clubs to extend netting beyond the dugouts in every ballpark. But the Padres' initiative appears to have taken that one step further. The netting will reach 24 feet in height and connect to the top of the dugouts, but it will also stretch into the shallow part of the outfield's foul territory, getting lower as it extends further.
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"The security and well-being of our fans is our number one priority at Petco Park," Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler and general partner Peter Seidler said in a statement. "We feel the new netting design drastically improves the safety of our patrons, while ... [having] a minimal effect on the fan experience."
Camp battles
• Left-hander Robbie Erlin pitched three innings in a back-field game Monday morning, cruising through two innings before he surrendered three homers and four runs in the third. Erlin, who struck out three and allowed six hits, is one of six pitchers vying for three available spots in the rotation.
• Raffy Lopez continues to make a compelling case for the backup catcher job behind Austin Hedges. Lopez smacked an opposite-field single in the eighth inning of a 4-0 Cactus League loss to the Royals. He's now 5-for-13 with four walks and a pair of homers this spring. A.J. Ellis, his competition for that spot, went 0-for-2.
Injury updates
• Catcher Luis Torrens, who has missed two weeks with oblique tightness, caught three innings in a back-field game on Monday. He hasn't yet resumed hitting in game situations, but he's taking batting practice with the team. Torrens could return to game action later this week.
• Third baseman Christian Villanueva returned to the lineup Monday after missing two games with a cut on his left forearm.
Up next
Jordan Lyles needs a bounce-back effort Tuesday if he wants to keep his name in a crowded rotation mix. The Padres will likely shift a couple of starters to the bullpen later this week, and Lyles -- who allowed five runs to the Cubs in an inning-plus -- is a candidate for the move. He starts Tuesday, again facing the Cubs, at 1:10 p.m. PT. Left-hander Matt Strahm is also slated to pitch. Watch on MLB.TV.

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