5 games and 2 series into the 2011 season, and it is certainly not time to panic. If we're taking anything away from these games, it should be a sense of relief that the 2011 Padres look an awful lot like the 2010 Padres that just barely missed the playoffs. That's a good thing.
Now it's time for Buddy Black to do what most good managers do, and tinker with things to find the best mix/lineup going forward. This is done all the time. A good example is the Red Sox, earlier this week, moving Carl Crawford down in the lineup because he was struggling. This is a perfect time to try things like that and see what works, and I'd love it if Buddy would try the following things:
Bench Brad Hawpe - No, I'm not panicking. There's something wrong with his swing. He missed a good chunk of games last year and only got 300 or so ABs, as opposed to his usual 500+. He's rusty, he's coming off injury and he's learning a new position. I don't think it would surprise anyone if he needed to be eased into the role of starting 1B right now.
It would be a great story, and a great pickup, if Hawpe can get back to the hitter he was with the Rockies. However, the place for him to figure out the issues with his swing is not in the middle of the lineup, it's in the batting cage with Randy Ready. Let him do that and switch roles with Jorge Cantu (pinch-hitter/occasional starter) until he shows improvement.
Cantu was obviously disappointed with the idea that he wasn't going to be the main starter here, this gives him a chance to prove that he can be. His splits say he almost the exact same hitter against RHPs than he is against LHPs, so it's not like he's not suited for the role. Hell, he might be better suited than Hawpe.
I Believe That We Will Venable - I get it. He's not as good against LHPs as he is against RHPs, and Buddy loves giving starts to Chris Denorfia. If this is how it's going to be, where Venable can't possibly play against lefties, I wish he wouldn't be 1) asked to lead off, so that the entire top of the order has to be reshuffled every few days and 2) asked to be more of a contact hitter, which he hasn't been so far.
If it were me, I'd realize that the only way Will is going to be that contact hitter is if I show him that he's going to be my #1 hitter on a near-daily basis. Otherwise, those dreams dancing in Will's head of him becoming an All-Star are followed by Will thinking he has to start doing something extraordinarily special (like because a power threat while playing in PETCO Park).
Seriously, follow my line of reasoning here. Will is essentially being told "We know you have the potential to be a 5-tool player and that's great, but we want you to be a contact hitter that plays about half of the time instead." At the same time, Will knows the deal. If he hits a HR, he gets to play the next day....usually. If he hits a bunch of HRs, he becomes the team's best power threat and gets to play every day and possibly live up to all that potential. So, if he's a little torn with how to go about his limited opportunities....I don't know that I blame him. If you show him that his opportunities will not be as limited, he might be more willing to go along with The Plan.
If I were the manager, I'd do two things. I'd move Venable down in the lineup (#7 sounds about right) and have Jason Bartlett-Orlando Hudson as my 1-2 every day. "But Bartlett's not a leadoff hitter!" somebody is about to say. And Venable (playing 60% of the time) is? Consistency from day to day at the top of the lineup is good. I'd also let Will face one of the lefties in the Dodgers series (I think we'll see both Ted Lilly and Clayton Kershaw) and see how he fares. He deserves that shot.
Move Nick Hundley Up in the Lineup - This is not a lineup of Adrian Gonzalezes. We've established that, right? Any big hitting threat we get is most likely going to be a "hot streak" by somebody like Hundley or Chase Headley, and should probably be taken advantage of.
So far, Hundley has hit #8 in every single game this season. Why not put him 4th or 5th and see if he can't keep it up? It certainly wouldn't hurt the guys hitting in front of him, it would give him more RBI opportunities (hypothetically) and would get him more ABs while he's scorching hot. Think about this: Right now, there is no position player on the Padres that is getting less plate appearances per game than Hundley....and yet he's the one guy that everyone is talking about being "locked in". That seems backwards.