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Notes: Branyan just wants to play

Notes: Branyan just wants to play

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Russell Branyan preceded Kevin Kouzmanoff in the Cleveland Indians organization, departing for Cincinnati in 2002, the year before Koumanoff signed as a sixth-round First-Year Player Draft pick out of Nevada-Reno.

Passing through Double-A Akron last year en route to Cleveland, Kouzmanoff was treated to tales of mammoth blasts Branyan unloaded in 1997 and 1998.

"There's this restaurant way out beyond the fence," Kouzmanoff said, "and he used to clear the restaurant. You'd look out there and wonder how it was possible."

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Branyan showed his formidable muscle and other talents in his 27 games with the Padres last year, his fifth Major League club. He was a valuable contributor in the drive to the National League West title with his bat (.292, six homers) and solid glove.

He'd spent the early part of the season in Tampa Bay, playing right field mainly, before coming to San Diego on Aug. 25 in exchange for pitcher Evan Meek and cash. The Padres exercised his option for $1 million, and Branyan is eager to make an impact -- in any role or position they see fit.

"It's kind of up in the air," Branyan said at Peoria Sports Complex, where the club held its first full-squad workout Thursday. "They're kind of banking on Kouz at third base and [Terrmel] Sledge in left field, but there's nothing carved in stone.

"For a team of this caliber to have two open positions, it's open range, and I'm taking my best shot. We've got two positions that are unsettled, and guys are going to be trying to get their hits and compete. There are a lot of decisions to be made."

Branyan, 31, has 111 career homers in 627 games. He feels his .232 career average reflects his struggle to find a secure role on a club. He has experience at all four corner positions -- first and third, left and right.

"I've never been in an everyday role in the big leagues," he said. "If it came to a point where I could play a different position every day, I would love to do that. Anything to get on the field."

No guarantees: Kouzmanoff, who came to the Padres along with pitcher Andrew Brown in exchange for the popular, productive Josh Barfield, is taking nothing for granted as he goes about the business of fine-tuning for the big challenge ahead.

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"In baseball, nothing's ever given to you," Kouzmanoff said. "I've got some competition now. Once you're satisfield or sit back and not stay hungry, it can come back to bite you in the butt. I'll go out every day and play hard like I'm playing for a job."

Kouzmanoff took some swings Thursday but was more focused on "tracking balls, just working on my eyes." His philosophy, he said, is "keep it simple. In this game, when you overanalyze everything, you dig yourself a hole."

Coaches in the past have tried to alter his hitting approach, finding it "unorthodox and unnatural," as he put it, but Padres hitting coach Merv Rettenmund quickly made it clear that "he's going to leave me alone until I need to change something."

As long as Kouzmanoff hits the way he has throughout the Minor Leagues, manager Bud Black won't care how unusual his stance or swing looks. The skipper watched the third baseman take ground balls and expressed no concerns about a throwing motion scouts have described as unorthodox.

"The same thing always sticks with me," Black said. "The end result is the player's usually out at first base."

Opening address: Black got the club all together for the first time in the clubhouse before the workout.

"Needless to say, I woke up a little earlier than usual," he said. "I had a few things I wanted to add.

"I'm sure the older guys have heard a lot of the things I said this morning. For some of the guys who haven't been in a big-league camp or around the game as much, there might have been some things they haven't heard before.

"It was OK. I enjoy talking baseball."

Health report: Geoff Blum reported that he tweaked his back "living my life," as he put it, not knowing exactly what caused it. With four young daughters, he suggested, moving them in and out of car seats among other acts, it could have happened in a myriad of ways.

"I'm fine, nothing to be concerned about," the Padres' all-purpose infielder said. Black said Blum was limited Thursday but there are "no long-term worries -- just precautionary."

Relief pitcher Mike Adams, recovering from knee surgery, isn't expecting to be throwing with meaning until around the middle of March. Paul McAnulty, also coming off knee surgery, was a "full go," as Black put it, going through all the workouts. Catcher Todd Greene underwent an MRI in San Diego on his dislocated right shoulder, but there was no word on what it showed.

Last word: Asked about fans being upset over the loss of Barfield, Kouzmanoff grinned and said: "It wasn't my call. It wasn't my idea. A lot of people know him on a personal level, and I know how they feel. We played together in '04 in the Arizona Fall League. Josh is a great guy."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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