Notes: Kouzmanoff catches praise

Notes: Kouzmanoff shows glove work

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Apparently, "The Crushin' Russian" carries a pretty nice glove as well.

San Diego third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff might very well have a reputation for being a hit machine in the Minor Leagues, but he's shown to be more than apt with the glove so far in Spring Training.

And, Kouzmanoff said, he thinks that surprises people.

"I think people look at what I've done offensively and maybe think that I'm an offensive third baseman and that's it," Kouzmanoff said. "... But I'm working hard at my defense."

Under the tutelage of third-base coach Glenn Hoffman -- who works with the infielders -- Kouzmanoff has scooped up just about everything hit his way in the first week of Cactus League play and made pinpoint throws.

Simple stuff, really, but given the Padres' woes at third base last season, it's easy to see why they're not only excited about Kouzmanoff's bat but his glove, as well.

"He's enjoying it," Hoffman said. "He's taking pride in his defense. It seems like he wants to come here and make a statement about his defense."

Last season, the Padres used six different players at third base -- Vinny Castilla, Geoff Blum, Todd Walker, Mark Bellhorn, Russell Branyan and Manny Alexander. Those six combined for 18 errors. No other position had as many errors.

Enter Kouzmanoff, who earned the nickname "The Crushin' Russian," for his .332 career batting average in the Minor Leagues. The Padres were so high on Kouzmanoff that they traded away popular second baseman Josh Barfield to Cleveland in November.

Kouzmanoff is actually of Macedonian decent, but the fact of the matter is he can rake.

He started last season at Double-A Akron and hit .389 in 244 at-bats. Promoted to Triple-A Buffalo, he hit .353 in 27 games before being recalled by the Indians. In Cleveland he hit home runs in his first two games, including a grand slam on the first pitch that he saw.

Kouzmanoff had one hit and two walks Wednesday against the Angels and is now hitting .286 this spring. He isn't the least bit concerned about his swing, saying that like many of the other players it's all about getting your timing down.

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Defensively, Hoffman has worked with Kouzmanoff on a myriad of things and has come away impressed with his newest pupil's work ethic and his ability to embrace everything thrown at him.

"He's a tremendous worker, he wants to work, he's willing to get better," Hoffman said. "We've been working on his footwork, his setup to free him up a little more. He's got pretty good hands and a strong enough arm. I've liked what I've seen so far."

Marcus at the top? San Diego manager Bud Black might not be ready to appoint a leadoff batter just yet, although he certainly sounded like he was leaning toward Marcus Giles on Wednesday.

Giles is hitting .333 this spring and Wednesday hit his first home run of the season in a 6-4 loss to the Angels in Tempe, Ariz.

"He looks good at the top of the order," Black said. "... He's got the ability to do a lot of things leading off. He can hit a homer, he can hit a double, he can steal a base if he gets on. I don't think we're asking him to come out of his game."

Giles batted leadoff last season with the Braves and hit .262 with 11 home runs and 60 RBIs, though some felt he was miscast in that role.

"He's swinging the bat really well ... he's having quality at-bat after quality at-bat," Black said. "We felt as we construct our lineup that he might be the best option."

More change: Clay Hensley made his second Cactus League start and offered the Angels plenty of fastballs and changeups, the latter being the pitch that he's been working on the most this spring.

"I worked on the changeups once again, it's something we're going to continue to throw this spring," Hensley said. "It's gotten a lot better. I'm starting to throw it to righties with confidence, throw it hitters' counts with confidence. I want to get to the point where I can throw it 2-0, 2-1, 1-2 and get aggressive to righties."

Sometimes too aggressive, as was the case Wednesday when catcher Rob Bowen couldn't get a glove on a changeup in the dirt that allowed a run to score in the first inning. Bowen was charged with a passed ball.

All told, Hensley allowed one earned run on two hits over three innings. Hensley walked two batters, though wasn't overly concerned with his command.

"I felt good for the most part and I felt like I was throwing strikes," Hensley said. "The walks, some of them were pretty close and could have gone either way."

Padres log: The Padres played a B game on Wednesday against the Mariners, which featured mostly Minor League players. Seattle topped the Padres 5-4, though the score ranked as pretty insignificant. Pitchers Tim Stauffer and Jared Wells combined for four scoreless innings. Pete LaForest had an inside-the-park home run and Geoff Blum hit one over the fence. Blum actually played three positions: third base, shortstop and second base. LaForest and Will Venable each had two hits. ... Greg Maddux will get the start on Thursday against his former team, the Cubs, at 1:05 p.m. MT in Peoria. ... Khalil Greene had a home run vs. the Angels, his first of the spring. Jose Cruz Jr. added a two-run double.

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