- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

SAN DIEGO (AP) - It’s almost as if last season didn’t end for the San Diego Padres.

The Padres go into 2014 trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers and with one of their starting pitchers already having arm trouble.

There had been a general air of optimism surrounding the Padres, who are coming off seasons of 91, 86 and 86 losses. Their rotation has been bolstered, as well as their player payroll.

Then came word late in spring training that newcomer Josh Johnson, penciled in as the No. 3 starter, is expected to be out four to five weeks after straining his right forearm.

That still leaves a projected rotation of Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy and Eric Stults, with a number of pitchers to choose from to replace Johnson.

“I think we have the talent on the mound, through our 12 guys that are going to make our team, to pitch well,” manager Bud Black said. “There’s a health component here like all teams. We’ve got keep our best players on the field.”

The Padres signed Johnson to an $8 million, one-year contact less than two months after he had bone spurs removed from his pitching elbow. He was 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA in 16 appearances last season with Toronto.

When Johnson returns, the Padres hope he and Ian Kennedy can return to their old form.

Kennedy was acquired from division rival Arizona at the trading deadline. He went 4-2 with a 4.24 ERA with San Diego after going 3-8 with a 5.23 ERA in 21 starts with the Diamondbacks. Johnson was an All-Star with the Marlins in 2009 and 2010, and led the NL with a 2.30 ERA in 2010.

The Padres will be tested right away. They open at home Sunday night against the defending NL West champion Dodgers and their $225 million payroll, led by ace Clayton Kershaw, himself a $215 million man. The Dodgers already sit atop the division after sweeping the Diamondbacks in a two-game series in Sydney.

Here are five things to watch as the Padres open the season:

PAYROLL: The Padres say their player payroll will be around $87 million, a club record. Of course, TV revenue is increasing, both from national and local sources, although the club won’t say by how much. The Padres are believed to be getting around $35 million this season from their deal with Fox Sports San Diego.

THE HEADLEY CONUNDRUM: The Padres go into the season having, once again, failed to sign third baseman Chase Headley to a long-term contract. If Headley isn’t traded this season, he’ll be eligible to leave as a free agent. The problem is, the Padres don’t know if they’d be getting the Headley who tore it up the final few months of 2012 - he finished the year hitting .286 with 31 homers and 115 RBIs - or the one who slumped last year, hitting .250 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs. “I think both sides have had enough conversations that we know where the other side stands,” Headley said. “We respect where the other side is. It’s kind of a difficult thing to judge when you’re coming off two seasons that were kind of polar opposites. There’s no hard feelings. There’s no animosity toward each other.”

START ‘EM UP: The Padres have fallen on their faces each of the last two Aprils, starting 2-10 in 2012 and 5-15 last year. After getting to .500 on June 28 last year, they were undone by a 10-game losing streak.

THE TRAINING ROOM: The Padres will rely on five players coming off surgeries: Johnson, left fielder Carlos Quentin (knee), Headley (knee) center fielder Cameron Maybin (wrist) and catcher Yasmani Grandal (knee). Additionally, Maybin, who played in only 14 games last season, hurt his left (non-throwing) biceps March 2 when he robbed the Dodgers’ Juan Uribe of extra bases with a diving catch. He opted not to have surgery and could be back next month. Will Venable is expected to play in center while Maybin is out.

PED GUYS: Grandal was suspended for the first 50 games of 2013 after testing positive for testosterone and shortstop Everth Cabrera, the team’s only All-Star, was suspended the final 50 for being linked with the Biogenesis of America scandal. Grandal hit .297 with eight homers and 36 RBIs in 60 games as a rookie in 2012. After coming back from his drug punishment, he hit .216 with one homer and nine RBIs in 28 games before getting tearing up his right knee in a collision at the plate on July 6, requiring reconstructive surgery. Cabrera led the NL with 37 stolen bases when his suspension started on Aug. 5.


Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/berniewilson

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