Mat Latos is in full delivery mode on the Padres' pocket schedule, looking over his left shoulder, eyeing a runner on first base. Petco Park serves as a backdrop.

It'll be some time before Latos replicates the pose. The team's marquee starter will begin the 2011 season on the disabled list.

Taking his spot on Opening Day will be Tim Stauffer, who didn't join the starting rotation last year until September.

Number two starter Clayton Richard battled shoulder problems in the spring, finishing with a 9.56 earned run average.

Number three starter Dustin Moseley sports a lifetime 5.28 ERA.

And fourth starter Aaron Harang was a combined 18-38 the past three seasons.

On a team that battled the World Series-champion Giants down to the final day of the season last year on the strength of its pitching, that's your rotation going into Thursday's season opener in St. Louis.

"Right now, the starting pitching is in (bad) shape," said Barry Bloom, a national writer for and former Union-Tribune reporter.

"If the pitching doesn't stay healthy, what people thought would happen last year (the Padres occupying the NL West cellar) could very well happen this year."

General Manager Jed Hoyer scoffs, saying that's the doomsayer's view. Hoyer puts little stock in spring training, where balls soar off the bat in the dry, thin air and ground balls scoot through asphalt-hard infields.

"For the most part, any one starter on that list, I can't tell you they pitched outstanding baseball this spring," Hoyer said. "But at the same time, there's not a lot of low ERAs in the Cactus League."

Pitching coach Darren Balsley puts even less importance in Cactus League play.

"Spring training," said Balsley, "doesn't matter one bit."

One reason for the Padres' optimism is that the club doesn't expect Latos' stint on the DL to last long.

"It's just precautionary," Balsley said. "The encouraging thing is he seems to be healthy now."

Latos has been placed on the disabled list with bursitis in his right shoulder. He threw Tuesday for the first time in eight days and said, "I felt fine. No pain." Latos is scheduled to throw again today. If there are no setbacks, he's set to pitch off a mound in St. Louis on Thursday.

He could be activated by April 6 at home against the Giants, the Padres' fifth game of the season.

Latos' spring ERA was an unsightly 9.00, including 16 hits and nine walks in 10 innings.

"I really don't know why I struggled," Latos said.

Balsley said he isn't concerned.

"His stuff is still the same," Balsley said. "It's still there."