Black looks to improve in second year

Black looks to improve in second year Has having a full season under your belt made coming into Spring Training easier this year on you? And moving into your second year, what are some of the things you want to do as a manager to improve?

Bud Black: Every step that I took in this role [last year] was new. This year, knowing from one year experience how to go about certain things ... I wouldn't say makes it any easier, but I know what to expect. I've gained a lot of knowledge being in there last year. I want to continue to try to get to know the opposition, try to understand the managers in the National League and continue to look for any edge we can find as a staff. You keep pushing the preparation and the communication aspect and things we need to do in a leadership role. Your bench will look a lot different than it did at the start of last year and during the season. How important is bench play and, specifically, what do you want your bench to look like as far as what attributes the players have?

Black: You want good hitters on the bench, you want good defenders, you want some speed. You want some power. You want it all. But it doesn't happen. Defense plays a premium, too. If you double-switch, you want to bring in a guy who is a good enough defender who won't cost you, especially in close ballgames. Seven years of Interleague Play sets you up for 162 games, but there was enough, going back to my four years in the National League as a player. The importance of the bench on a daily basis, the moves that are made, figures way more than an American League team. Chase Headley has certainly had a big spring making the conversion from third base to left field. He's looked good in the outfield, but there's certainly more to defense than just catching fly balls. How do you think he's fared?

Black: He's played well. The only thing is the change in positions and doing it at the big league level is tough. Doing it in Spring Training is a great indicator of things to come. He hasn't done anything to indicate that he's not capable. We're asking a lot of this kid, but we think that he has the aptitude and the mental strength to handle it. Some guys you're a little leery of, but not this kid. There's certainly been a lot made about the Padres' inability to stop the opposition from stealing bases in 2007. Percentages show that a lot of those runners don't come around to score, but what have pitchers done this spring to ensure the teams don't run as much in 2008?

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Black: A lot of people are hung up on the stolen base. But we know, ultimately, you stop guys from scoring by getting guys out at the plate. With that said ... we want to improve on all areas. We have had pitchers vary their set times [in their deliveries]. And you have to identify the guys you want to keep from stealing. [Rafael] Furcal, [Scott] Podsednik and [Juan] Pierre, they're going to steal against everybody. The borderline runner, that's what we have to identify. You just returned from China where the Padres played two games in Beijing against the Dodgers. How did you feel about the overall experience, weighing what you might have missed here evaluating players against what you gained by going on the trip?

Black: I don't think I missed a whole lot. I think Gonzo, Kouz and Hairston [Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Scott Hairston], getting them away from their routine, you don't know how it's going to affect them. But I think it was early enough in spring where there's time to regroup and get back. All in all, it was a great experience. Callix Crabbe, the Rule 5 Draft pickup from the Brewers, has had a strong spring playing just about everywhere -- center field, right field, third base, second base and shortstop. What do you think about his game?

Black: The versatility is a big plus for him. There's a short little quick stroke. He puts the bat on the ball. He's got that line-drive, gap stroke from both sides of the plate that looks pretty good. He's having a great spring. He's a guy that we identified in the winter to help our club, and he's not making us think any different. All our scouting reports on him have been right on. The way he's played this spring, and the way our scouts saw him last year, he possibly could be deserving of a shot. He's playing very well. He's getting his hits, he's showing his versatility -- which is a plus."

Corey Brock is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.