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Diaz transitioning back to starting role

Pitcher scheduled to throw in Friday's Cactus League opener
MLB.com @AJCassavell

PEORIA, Ariz. -- If the Padres wanted Miguel Diaz to pitch in relief, the 23-year-old flame-thrower would have a decent shot at working his way into the big league bullpen.

But the Friars didn't select Diaz from Milwaukee in the 2016 Rule 5 Draft with the long-term vision that he'd be a reliever. He combines an upper-90s fastball with two impactful (yet still raw) offspeed pitches. The Padres think Diaz is worth more in the long run if he's a part of their rotation.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- If the Padres wanted Miguel Diaz to pitch in relief, the 23-year-old flame-thrower would have a decent shot at working his way into the big league bullpen.

But the Friars didn't select Diaz from Milwaukee in the 2016 Rule 5 Draft with the long-term vision that he'd be a reliever. He combines an upper-90s fastball with two impactful (yet still raw) offspeed pitches. The Padres think Diaz is worth more in the long run if he's a part of their rotation.

Spring Training information

That's just fine with Diaz, who makes his spring debut Friday when the Padres open their Cactus League slate against Seattle. Diaz will pitch that game in relief (with an excess of starters in camp who also need innings). But make no mistake, the Padres will extend Diaz on a starter's progression.

"Last year was a little difficult for me, because I had never been a reliever," Diaz said. "The biggest thing for me has been just getting back that starter's routine and going through that five-day routine. I've prepared for that coming into this Spring Training. I ran more. I was in the gym and thinking in terms of endurance."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Diaz posted a 7.34 ERA in 31 appearances last season, three of which came as a starter. His struggles were probably predictable, after making the jump from Class A Advanced straight to the Majors. Per stipulations of the Rule 5 Draft, Diaz needed to stay on the big league roster an entire season or be returned to his former club.

In one sense, Diaz missed out on a year of development in the Minors as a starting pitcher. But neither he nor the Padres view it that way. Instead, Diaz has critical big league experience that other young pitchers do not.

Diaz is almost certain to begin the 2018 season in the Minor Leagues, possibly with Double-A San Antonio. And there are plenty of Major League lessons he can apply there.

"It's about the experience I was able to get last year," Diaz said. "But I did come into this Spring Training more focused on throwing my pitches for strikes and getting to know how to attack hitters differently -- what to throw in certain counts, how to use pitch sequencing. That's what I've been working on, and I'm going to continue to do so."

Kennedy starts Friday

The Padres have mapped out their pitching plans for this weekend's slate of games, with right-hander Brett Kennedy getting the ball for Friday's lid-lifter. Tyson Ross will follow Saturday, and Bryan Mitchell will start Sunday.

Kennedy posted a 3.70 ERA for San Antonio last season, with 134 strikeouts in 141 innings. Also slated to pitch Friday are Diaz, Kyle Lloyd, Buddy Baumann and Tom Wilhelmsen.

On Saturday, the Padres will turn back the clock a bit, sending Ross and Chris Young to the hill. Both were All-Stars at one point in San Diego, and they're eyeing a career renaissance in 2018.

Jankowski making early adjustments

After missing four months in 2017 with a broken bone in his right foot, Travis Jankowski has turned a few heads early in camp. He's slated to compete for the backup center-field job alongside Matt Szczur and Franchy Cordero.

Video: Green, Richard, Jankowski ready to start 2018 season

"I really like where Travis Jankowski's swing is right now," manager Andy Green said. "He came in a month early and he's been working with [new hitting coach] Matt Stairs since mid-to-late January, and there's been real changes to his swing. There's nobody who defends the field better and, honestly, nobody who runs the bases better than him. So if that bat comes around, he becomes a really, really exciting player for us."

Jankowski will start in center field Friday. Other position players expected to suit up include Carlos Asuaje, Hunter Renfroe and Cory Spangenberg.

Rea, Erlin throw live batting practice

It's been a long road back for Robbie Erlin and Colin Rea since their 2016 Tommy John surgeries. But the two rotation hopefuls are closing in on a full return.

Both Erlin and Rea faced live hitters for the first time this spring on Thursday. They're on a progression that's slightly slower than the rest of the club's hurlers. But they remain serious rotation candidates and should get enough innings to prove themselves.

The Peoria Sports Complex is familiar ground for both. Rea and Erlin spent the bulk of the 2017 season at the Padres' complex. Erlin even pitched during instructional games, while Rea threw two live sessions. Both were shut down mid-autumn, the idea being that they could approach the winter like a normal offseason.

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

San Diego Padres, Miguel Diaz, Robbie Erlin, Travis Jankowski, Brett Kennedy, Colin Rea