We’re almost a week away from Opening Day for the rest of the League’s 28 teams, and I can hardly contain my excitement. After an offseason of watching the Padres’ roster being made-over and reconstructed as much as one of the faces of those Housewives on the Bravo Channel, we are finally going to get to see this team in action in 6 days! While most of the Padres roster received a make-over, one unit this season will feature a significant amount of changes in personnel when compared to the beginning of last season: the bullpen. I figured that today’s post would provide a good opportunity to talk about some of the new guys that will be pitching out of the ‘pen this season and what can be expected of them.
8th and 9th Inning Changes
Gone is 3x All-Star Heath Bell and the 142 Saves he accumulated for the Padres over the last three seasons. Because Bell was too expensive to keep, San Diego went elsewhere to satisfy their need for a Closer. Now it will now be up to newcomer and former Rookie of the Year Huston Street to at least fill somewhat of the void left now that Bell has departed. Street (84 Saves 3.50 ERA in 3 seasons with Colorado), will be looking to start fresh in San Diego, and rebound off of a somewhat down 2011 season for him. Street posted career highs in ERA (3.86) and HR’s given up (10), and sustained a triceps injury that landed him on the DL late in the season.
Like Edinson Volquez though, Street’s moving to the friendly confines of Petco for most of his games (from Coors Field especially) will undoubtedly help him not only in a statistical sense in terms of Saves and ERA, but it should also help him keep the gopher ball numbers down as well. At only 28, Street still has a lot of solid years left to produce during his career. With Bell gone, the job is all Street’s, and it’s his to lose. Hopefully Street will seize the opportunity because as of now he’s San Diego’s best option.
Also gone in 2012 is super Set-Up man Mike Adams. Well, Adams left in the middle of last season, but this will be the first full season that San Diego will be without his pitching prowess. The job will likely fall to a newcomer, but unlike Street, this newcomer is a tad “green” in the experience department. And in 2012, young Andrew Cashner will have some pretty lofty expectations place upon him if he does indeed assume the Set-Up man role. After going down with an injury last season, Cashner struggled in 2010 to a 2-6 record in 53 games with a 4.80 ERA and 50 K’s compared to 30 Walks. Unfazed and wowed by his potential, San Diego acquired Cashner this offseason to potentially replace Adams and be a force out of the bullpen in the present. Cashner however has proved the Padres right, and this Spring he has been firing bee-bee’s out of the bullpen. So far, Cashner has given up 1 run in 8 Innings, and has an 11:3 Strikeout to Walk ratio, and essentially locked down a spot in the bullpen.
In the event Cashner continues to develop and hones his triple-digit fastball, he could be a real force in the next couple of years.
Middle Relief/Long Starter Changes
Entering their first full seasons’ as long relievers/spot starters for the Padres will be Micah Owings and Anthony Bass. Both guys will likely assume the dual-roles this season, and will be counted on to eat Innings in case the starters are shelled early or need to spot start at time. Owings had himself a career Renaissance last year in Arizona and pitched effectively for the D-Backs down the stretch. Owings has had a rough go of it this Spring though (7.50 ERA, 0-1 record, .340 BA against, and 16 Hits in 12.0 Innings) and seems to be losing the long-relief race to Bass at the moment. Still, Owings will likely see plenty of work this season, and having a veteran that can do multiple things for the Pitching staff is always a good thing for a team to have.
According to Corey Brock of Padres.com, Bass will likely do what Luebke did last season and start the year in the bullpen before moving to starting full-time. Bass will be looking to build on his solid end to the 2011 season where he put up a 2-0 record and a 1.68 ERA in 27 appearances with 3 starts. Yet with San Diego’s pitching staff set entering the regular season with Stauffer, Luebke, Richard, Volquez, and Moseley, Bass could benefit from some extended time in the bullpen working on his control (24 K’s to 21 BB’s in 48.1 Innings with Padres last season) and logging more big league experience. Regardless, Bass is being groomed to start in the future though (he’s having a great Spring: 2-0 1.93 ERA in 14 Innings), so if things go sour early for San Diego he could move to the rotation full time, and give another Padres late-season call-up from 2011 a shot this season: Brad Brach.
Brach has made himself a pretty strong case as of late to make the big league club, and has turned in a nice stat line this Spring. In 11 appearances (team high), Brach has a 3-1 record, a 0.93 ERA, has 2 Saves in 3 Chances, and 14 Strikeouts to only 2 Walks in 9.2 Innings of work. While Brach got roughed up a bit at the big league level last season (0-2 5.14 ERA in 9 games), he still could be a wild-card to make the roster on Opening Day from how well he has done over the last few weeks. In the event that Brach does not make the big club next week, he will likely be back on the Padres roster if injury strikes and/or some extra arms are needed in the bullpen in case Bass or Owings is needed to start on multiple occasions in a row.
It is going to be intriguing to watch Street, Cashner, Owings, Bass, Brach, and a healthy Joe Thatcher working in the bullpen this season with Luke Gregerson and Ernesto Frieri to start the season. There will undoubtedly be some shuffling with guys until each assumes a full-time role by mid-season or so, but watching how this situation shakes out will be at least a learning experience for the Coaching Staff to figure out which guys work best and where. And who knows? All this change could be a good thing, and the Padres could have struck gold with the moves they have made and some of the young arms which are starting to develop. We’re only 6 days away from starting to find out how this experiment works, and I am ready to watch.
Stats provided by: www.baseball-reference.com
Padres Official Website: http://sandiego.padres.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=sd