Padres like their chances heading into 2014

SAN DIEGO -- Josh Johnson didn't necessarily need it, but he received some words of encouragement that really resonated with him recently during an offseason workout.

While working out near his home in Nevada, Johnson had a brief conversation with UNLV head coach Tim Chambers that stuck with him.

"He walked up to me and said, 'I can see a difference in just you playing catch' at the 75 feet or what it was at the time," Johnson said. "That was huge. I've felt good but then to have someone else say I can see a difference, can see the extension ... that was nice."

Johnson, who agreed to a one-year deal worth $8 million in November, is coming off a miserable year with the Blue Jays and surgery after the season to remove loose bodies in his right elbow, which had a profound impact on his struggles in 2013.

Johnson was 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA in 16 starts for the Blue Jays, a season that was interrupted by two stints on the disabled list. His last appearance came on August 6.

"Spring Training [in 2013], [the elbow] felt good, but there was something in there that wasn't bothering me yet," Johnson said. "We got to April and it started creeping in. You could tell that something wasn't quite there. I couldn't get to that extension."

Johnson said his elbow has felt great since his October surgery and that he's already been able to throw three bullpen sessions. He'll likely have two more before pitchers and catchers report to Arizona for the start of Spring Training on Feb. 13.

The Padres will allow Johnson to come along slowly in Spring Training. That's the case with a handful of other players coming off surgery -- including outfielders Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin. The goal, manager Bud Black said last week, is to keep players healthy through Spring Training and have them set for the start of the regular season on March 30.

"I talked to Bud and he was saying you might not go [pitch] every other day and we're going to play it by ear and see how you're feeling," Johnson said.

Injured Luebke receives support at FanFest

Outlook: Luebke to miss entire 2014 season

SAN DIEGO -- Just over a week after it was determined Padres pitcher Cory Luebke would need a second surgery on his left elbow, he took part in an autograph session during FanFest at Petco Park.

Fans might have received his autograph, but Luebke received something else -- compassion and even a sense of encouragement from fans about his plight.

"They were great," Luebke said. "There was a ton of support out there. A lot of people want to see me back out there [on the field]. I want to see me back out there. Right now, I'm looking forward to getting this thing right and getting back out there."

Luebke missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery on May 23, 2012. But he encountered some setbacks during the rehab and a recent MRI showed a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, meaning he'll need a second surgery.

He's scheduled to meet with Dr. James Andrews in his Pensacola office on Feb. 17 with surgery set for the following day. Andrews performed the same surgery on Padres pitcher Casey Kelly on April 2 of last season.

At this point, Luebke is only looking forward and refuses to feel sorry for himself.

"Everything that's happened before is water under the bridge," he said. "The only frustrating part for me is we were rehabbing something that couldn't be rehabbed. But now we've got a chance to get it right. We're going to take the next steps to get back out there."

Recovering Kelly cheering on Olympian cousin

Top Prospects: Casey Kelly, RHP, Padres

SAN DIEGO -- Pitcher Casey Kelly has had his hands full of late, not just with his rehabilitation from the Tommy John surgery he had last April but also getting ready for Spring Training.

And, of course, trying to figure out when he'll be able to sit down and watch the Winter Olympics from Sochi.

Kelly's cousin, Kikkan Randall, is a member of the US women's cross-country skiing team. Randall is also considered a Gold Medal contender in the individual sprint.

"I've obviously been following her for a while," said Kelly of Randall, who hails from Anchorage, Alaska. "Her workouts are crazy. I'm always excited to get to watch her in the Olympics."

As for Kelly, he continues to make strides in his recovery from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in April. He said Saturday that he's well into his long-toss program and has played catch off the mound. Reluctant to place a timetable on his expected return, Kelly did indicate that he hopes to be pitching in games -- likely Minor League rehabilitation stints -- sometime in April.

"That's my goal," Kelly said.

That said, he realizes that he has to be flexible. Earlier this week, Kelly heard that teammate Cory Luebke would need a second Tommy John surgery and will miss his second consecutive season.

"With Tommy John, it's so difficult to say you'll be back at a certain point," he said. "I think once I get to bullpen sessions that I'll be able to see how my arm feels. And the next day, just making sure that I feel healthy."