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Headley’s at Third, Ready to Score

PEORIA, Ariz. - Chase Headley is back where he is most comfortable, at third base, and now the San Diego Padres want him to feel equally at ease with his place in their offense.

"He's going to hit in the middle of our lineup," manager Bud Black said. "We need him to knock in runs. We need him to score runs."

Headley, 25, played left field in 2009 in his first full season in the majors and hit .262 with 12 home runs and 64 RBI, mostly batting fourth and fifth in the lineup behind offensive leader Adrian Gonzalez.

Now that third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff has been traded to the Oakland Athletics, Headley, a second-round pick in 2005, is clear to play his natural position.

"I think that does take a little of the defensive anxiety off him," Black said. "Hopefully that helps his all-around game."

A high school valedictorian at Fountain, Colo., Headley is smart enough not to take anything for granted - even at third base.

"I'm taking tons and tons of ground balls, working hard to get comfortable again," he said. "I guess I'm getting reacquainted at third base.

"I was thankful for the opportunity to make it to the big leagues at a different position, but you always want to be the best player you can be, and I feel like third base gives me the opportunity to do it. There's that sense of familiarity. I'm going back to somewhere I've played pretty much my entire life."

Headley knows there's plenty of room for improvement at the plate, and his splits tell the tale. A switch-hitter, he batted .270 with eight homers from the left side but .244 with four homers right-handed.

"In spring training last year, I felt great right-handed," Headley said. "So we hammered the left side of the plate. Then the season came, and I lost the feel right-handed and couldn't get it back. I know my right side wasn't where I need it to be last year."

He did hit better after the All-Star break (.293) than in the first half (.232). "I felt I was struggling the entire first half, and that wears on you," he said. "In the second half I did a much better job of saying, 'Trust the work I've done.' "

There was also the Petco Park factor. Headley batted .305 on the road but .208 at home.

"Everybody knows Petco leans toward being a pitcher's park, but that split is much too drastic," he says. "It really doesn't have anything to do with the park getting in my head or anything like that. I think it was just one of those years when I didn't get it done at home. I'm not concerned about that, but obviously you don't like the numbers to look that way."

Overall, Headley, who is expected to provide more protection for Gonzalez in the order, said he thinks he can become a better hitter by cutting down on his 133 strikeouts.

"He's to the point where I think he understands what it takes to be a major league player," Black said. "The growing pains are over. Now it's just a matter of performance, and he knows what's in front of him."

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