Clemens slated to start Cactus opener

29-year-old right-hander trying to nab rotation spot

Clemens slated to start Cactus opener

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Paul Clemens will get the first chance to state his case in the Padres' wide-open race for starting rotation spots.

The 29-year-old right-hander -- one of about 11 starting pitchers fighting for a roster spot -- has been tabbed for San Diego's Cactus League opener Saturday against Seattle.

Clemens posted a 4.04 ERA in 18 appearances last season, including a 3.67 mark after being claimed by the Padres last June.

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"He finished [last season] very well," said Padres manager Andy Green. "I thought his first live BP was outstanding two days ago. His curveball looks as good as it ever has.

"If he stays in it mentally, if he does everything leading up to the game correctly, he's got more than enough stuff to pitch successfully at the Major League level."

Clemens added 12-13 pounds of muscle during the offseason, Green said. That bulk could be useful for Clemens, who often looked sharp early in games before coming unraveled late.

His curveball will also be critical. Opponents batted just .189 against the pitch last season and .297 against everything else. The Padres would like to see Clemens get his curveball usage up to about 40 percent, though he hasn't always been able to hit the strike zone with the pitch.

Urias will get time at shortstop

Luis Urias, one of the Padres' fastest-rising prospects and the reigning California League MVP, will see time at shortstop this spring.

Urias, 19, spent the majority of last season at second base while hitting .333/.404/.446 for Class A Lake Elsinore and Triple-A El Paso. Questions have arisen about whether he has enough range to play shortstop, and the Padres intend to find the answer.

"We all feel really good about how he defends second base," Green said. "He's a smart guy, plays the game in a hard-nosed fashion. Now it's really about how much versatility does he bring to the table? If we're able to slot him in at short, it's very valuable to us long-term."

Top Prospects: Urias, SD

In Cactus League play, don't expect to see much of Urias at short, where the Padres will be focused on a positional battle between Luis Sardinas and Erick Aybar. But Urias likely will see time there in the latter innings and during back-field games and workouts.

"The way our roster is broken down, we've got a lot of options at second and at third, down the line," Green said. "At the upper levels, [we have] minimal options at shortstop right now, so we're eager to see what he brings to the table."

News and notes

• Left fielder Alex Dickerson is battling a stiff back and was held out of workouts Monday. Green said he doesn't expect the ailment to linger long-term, but it could force Dickerson to miss a few days.

The lefty slugger is coming off a rookie season in which he batted .257/.333/.455 with 10 homers in 253 at-bats. He burst onto the scene with an impressive July but was hampered by a hip injury later in the season after a warning-track collision.

• The Padres are holding a 32-player ping pong tournament, playing one game per day for the remainder of camp with matchups drawn at random. In Monday's opening game, new acquisition Jered Weaver bested first baseman Wil Myers to advance to the round of 16.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.