Top Prospects: Austin Hedges, C, Padres

PEORIA, Ariz. -- For the past three years, Brad Ausmus has spent time in Padres camp, working with the catchers. He continued that work during the regular season, visiting Minor League affiliates to continue working with young catchers in the system.

But Ausmus is nowhere to be found this spring, as he's in Florida as a first-year manager of the Tigers.

But his legacy and the work that he put in still resonates well with two catchers in big league camp, Cody Decker and Austin Hedges.

"I was absolutely ecstatic when he got the job," Decker said. "I was jumping up and down, going crazy."

In the fall of 2011, Decker played for Ausmus, who was managing Team Israel during the World Baseball Classic qualifier. Last season, Decker, a converted first baseman, worked closely with Ausmus in Triple-A.

"His biggest thing about that was he didn't mind me being sloppy [mechanically]," Decker said. "But he wanted me to know what I was doing, to make sure I was up for helping the pitchers and was always on the same page as them. That is what he preached."

This is why Decker is so sure that Ausmus will be a hit as a Major League manager despite never having managed at any level professionally.

"Watching him handle players, handle the game … he's not very high strung. He's laid back but he's also very understanding of his players needs," Decker said. "He was fun to play for."

Like Decker, Hedges -- regarded as the top defensive catcher in the Minor Leagues -- believes managing is the perfect fit for Ausmus, who still makes his home in Del Mar.

"He had a good idea how to control a game and run a pitching staff. I think for almost any organization, the pitching staff is going to win you games," Hedges said. "He has a really good baseball mind. I think the sky is the limit for him."

Black wants starters to push for 200 innings

ARI@SD: Richard turns in a great eight innings

PEORIA, Ariz. -- In a perfect world, Padres manager Bud Black will preside over a starting rotation filled with pitchers who can make 30-plus starts and reach or eclipse the 200-inning mark.

But that hasn't been something Black has seen often enough in his tenure with the team, which started in 2007.

The Padres have had just five pitchers in the last seven years reach or eclipse the 200-inning mark -- Jake Peavy in 2007 (223 1/3), Clayton Richard in 2010 (201 2/3), Jon Garland in 2010 (200), Richard in 2012 (218 2/3) and, last season, Eric Stults (203 2/3).

"It's a little different now. But that's been shaped by baseball in general, how we use our bullpens, how we manage our pitching staff," Black said. "Starts and innings have evolved to a certain standard now."

Much more so, Black said, than during his 15-year big league career (1981-1995), where he tossed over 200 innings in a single season five times, including throwing 257 innings for the Royals in 1984.

"You knew they [innings] were important [then]," Black said. "And they're important now. I tell our guys that. There was an expectation that this is what a starting pitching does. But the hard number [200] is talked about more than ever before."

Unlike years past, the Padres open Spring Training with a rotation that's essentially set: Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy, newcomer Josh Johnson and Stults.

Cashner threw a career-high 175 innings last season and Ross reached a career-best with 125 innings. Kennedy has twice topped 200 innings in his career and Johnson has done so once.

Johnson trying to make big leagues as pitcher

SD@ARI: Johnson nabs Bloomquist to end the inning

PEORIA, Ariz. -- During his lone season as a backup catcher with the Padres in 2011, Rob Johnson spent one afternoon in the bullpen at Petco Park -- not as a catcher, but throwing a bullpen session while the coaching staff and some members of the front-office staff watched.

Nothing came of it at the time, though it's become apparent that Johnson has now officially ditched his catching gear for the chance to make it back to the big leagues, this time as a pitcher.

Johnson, 31, recently signed a Minor League contract with the Padres as a pitcher. He'll report to camp on Feb. 28 with the rest of the Minor League players.

Johnson hit .190 in 199 plate appearances with the Padres during the 2011 season and later spent time in the big leagues with the Mets (2012) and Cardinals (2013).

Johnson actually tossed one inning for the Mets in 2012 and then got one out in an August loss for the Cardinals last season, so this conversion isn't entirely out of the blue for him.