The Coast News Group

Jay Paris: The time is right for Padres baseball

Spring is here and what took it so long?

The never-ending saga of a new Chargers stadium is just that. It’s a process that sucks the oxygen from any room in which San Diego sports live.

But starting this week the sound of a ball meeting a bat has arrived, as the Padres start playing for real.

Or is it for fake?

Not sure it matters but they are keeping score in the Arizona exhibition games and that’s always a plus.

Will it play in Peoria takes on a fresh meaning when Padres knock the cobwebs off their gear.

An offseason, which didn’t rival the last one for creating a buzz, has morphed into spring training.

The annual process in the desert comes with these staples: an optimism that this year might be the one and the reality that there’s much work to be done.

Before the first pitch was heaved, it appeared the Padres were 1-0.

New manager Andy Green, by all accounts, smacked a home run when addressing the team for the first time. That’s hard to see in the standings, but each journey has an initial step and at least he didn’t stub his toe.

Green comes from Arizona, so he knows the landscape. He resided in the Diamondbacks’ third-base coaching box last year and just maybe that’s a sign of good things to come.

His gung-ho demeanor is all-positive and that’s seldom a negative. But he’s a realist, as well, when eyeing a Padres lineup with potentially more holes than those overpriced designer jeans.

A baseball game can’t begin until the starter delivers a pitch. And the Padres, if to break their streak of five straight losing seasons, will lean on the guys expected to take the ball some 30 times this season.

Tyson Ross has been named the opening-day starter over James Shields. If comparing those two to a steak sauce, we would have “A-1” and “A-1a.” Each can be called the staff’s ace, with Ross showing his nasty slider and Rancho Santa Fe’s Shields the curled lip any hard-nosed competitor reveals.

Next up is Andrew Cashner and with the Chargers’ Eric Weddle gone, Cashner has the most impressive beard of any area pro athlete. But what the Padres are seeking, in what could be his walk year, is more fortitude to go with his fastball.

Cashner was the victim of a shaky defense in 2015, but sometimes you make your own breaks. Cashner rebounding is a must for San Diego.

Then it gets tricky as the Padres fill out the rotation. In among the spring’s most spirited battles, look for Colin Rea, Brandon Maurer, Brandon Morrow, Drew Pomeranz and Robbie Erlin to get shots.

Among the position players, pencil in Matt Kemp in right, Wil Myers at first, Alexi Ramirez at shortstop, Derek Norris at catcher and Yangervis Solarte at third. Corey Spangenberg is likely your second baseman.

So left and center are up for grabs and no matter how it plays out, the defense should be improved.

The Padres lost Kemp’s lineup protection when left fielder Justin Upton exited for Detroit. He’ll probably be replaced by John Jay as the Padres hope he shows his former skills after hitting .210 last year for the Cardinals.

There’s still an Upton on board, and it’s Justin’s brother, Melvin.

After being chased out of Atlanta, Melvin showed a tad of a spark toward the end last year. His legs aren’t the issue as he’s among the fastest Friars. But among Green’s jobs is make sure Melvin’s heart is in the right place.

The bullpen was rebuilt with Craig Kimbrel and Joaquin Benoit sent packing. Fernando Rodney is the new closer and if you see Green’s fingers crossed, you’ll know why.

How will this all turn out? One never knows.

What’s clear is baseball is back, which hopefully pushes chatter about environmental impact reports, citizen’s initiatives and two-third majority votes in the background.

It’s time, finally, to play ball instead of playing politics.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports.