Notes: Blum doesn't sweat pinch-hitting

Notes: Blum doesn't sweat pinch-hitting

PEORIA, Ariz. -- There are tougher jobs than pinch-hitting, like milking rattlesnakes, cleaning windows at the Sears Tower or trying to stay on the back of the bull Bodacious for at least eight seconds.

The list, however, is short.

"It is the toughest thing to do in baseball," said Geoff Blum, who is one of the best pinch-hitters in the game.

Blum's job description: Sit for maybe eight innings, come off the bench, face closers like Billy Wagner, who is throwing in the high 90s, or Tom Gordon, who has a knee-buckling curve, and deliver a key hit for the Padres.

"I lower my expectations before I even go up there," Blum said with a laugh. "Anything that happens out of a pinch-hitting situation is a bonus. There are expectations on you, but the expectations aren't too high just because it is one of those hard things to come off the bench ice-cold, sometimes face a guy you haven't seen in a while and try to get a hit.

"Usually it is in some pretty serious situations, runners in scoring position or you need to get on base to score some runs. Just lower your expectations a little bit and go out there and try to enjoy it and take advantage of that one at-bat you get a day."

Blum's .387 pinch-hitting average was the highest in the Majors last season. His 12 pinch-hits included four doubles and a home run.

"You are facing specialists, who are designed to set up a closer, or guys who close games, so you're not facing just anybody that shouldn't be there," Blum said. "You are facing a guy one time. You don't get three at-bats against the guy. All you have got is tendencies you've seen on video and a little bit of luck."

Blum, a 33-year-old switch-hitter, takes as much information as possible and experience to the plate.

"Every series you get scouting reports, you're watching video, you see the flow of the game, you get used to your manager, you see how he works, how he is going to use you and in what situations and what-not. You kind of go from there. You go up there with as much knowledge as you can.

"The first time you do it, you put a lot of pressure on yourself. Early on in my career, I've put a lot of heat on myself for not getting a hit in situations or getting a hit every time I went up. I think the biggest thing in pinch-hitting is going up there and having good quality at-bats, seeing pitches, working counts if you can."

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In the know: Outfield prospect Will Venable's early pick to win the NCAA basketball tournament is UCLA.

"I feel like guard play is huge and I feel they have some of the best guards," Venable said.

Venable knows about guard play and March Madness. Veneable, 6-foot-2, was a three-year starter at Princeton and all-Ivy League, and his junior year, the Tigers lost to Texas in a first-round game.

"I was a combo guard -- a point guard, off guard," Venable said. "I did everything except for shoot. I wasn't the best shooter. I always loved basketball. I had options overseas to play. As far as the NBA goes, it wasn't in my near future. Just looking at it realistically, guys that go to the NBA in my position are three inches taller and can jump higher. So as nice as it would have been to keep playing, I just felt like I should give baseball a try."

Venable, who was a seventh-round pick in 2005, hit .314 with 34 doubles, 91 RBIs and 86 runs last season in the Class A Midwest League. His Fort Wayne hitting coach was his father, Max, who played 12 years in the Majors.

"He was a big part of me doing as well as I did," Venable said. "I didn't get to work with him as much as a lot of people think in the past. He was always playing and I was into basketball once he was done playing. He is good at what he does. Everyone benefited from him."

Knowing the staff: Josh Bard arrived in a May 1 trade last season with 163 games in the Majors, all in the American League, and little knowledge of the Padres' pitchers.

Bard started 50 games behind the plate, giving him more knowledge of the San Diego staff.

"The familiarity is there, so you try to take it to the next step," Bard said. "Each day you learn more and more about each other, and each day you get more comfortable with each other. It takes one or two times [catching a pitcher] before you get to relax. By now, you feel comfortable with the guys."

Until Spring Training, Bard had never caught Greg Maddux, one of the Padres' offseason acquisitions.

"His track record speaks for itself," Bard said. "It is going to be one of the privileges of my career to be able to catch him, a Hall of Famer."

Batting first: Dave Roberts was the Padres' primary leadoff hitter last year, but his departure leaves a void at the top of the lineup.

Manager Bud Black said the main candidates to replace him are Brian Giles, Marcus Giles and Terrmel Sledge.

"All three have had experience leading off," Black said. "Those are the three that would seem to fit that that role. Like a lot of teams, we don't have a prototypical leadoff hitter."

Fishing time: Before the workout began Sunday, several Padres had their rods and reels out and attempted to cast into buckets on the field. Black said judge Marcus Giles ruled pitcher Erick Burke as the No. 1 seed with Scott Strickland and pitching coach Darren Balsley rounding out the top three.

"There was a challenge on who was the better caster, so we had a little competition," Black said. "This just sort of manifested."

Alan Eskew is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.