During Spring Training, it appeared that Padres Starting Pitcher Tim Stauffer would assume the #1 spot at the top of San Diego’s rotation. And honestly, why shouldn’t he have? He was the Opening Day starter in 2011, he set career highs in Wins, Starts, Innings Pitched, and Strikeouts and was arguably San Diego’s most consistent starting pitcher not named Aaron Harang. Plus, as most of the rotation would be new and/or young and/or injured from the previous season as the team entered the 2012 campaign (Cory Luebke, Anthony Bass, Edinson Volquez, Clayton Richard, and Dustin Moseley), Stauffer would be a wise choice to face the opponent’s #1 guys on an every fifth day basis.
Unfortunately for Stauffer, he was placed on the Disabled List right before the regular season started with a strained pitching elbow and has yet to make a start for the Friars this season. Thankfully for the Padres though, Stauffer is working his way back from his injury and just recently pitched a rehab assignment with Single-A Lake Elsinore. Yet when Stauffer returns to the big club, one must ask: “Will he be the #1 Starter for the Padres?” In my personal opinion, Stauffer might have ceded that role while rehabbing to young Cory Luebke who has pitched lights out as of late, and is right now the “#1″ guy on this staff, and should figure to be for a very long time.
For those of you who have been paying attention, and judging by the attendance you haven’t (sorry, “Major League” joke there, I just had to use it), Luebke has been doing a fantastic job on the mound for San Diego over the last few weeks. After overcoming a poor opening start to the Dodgers where he gave up 5 Earned Runs (6 total) in 4.2 Innings, Luebke has allowed only 4 Earned Runs in his last 4 starts! Coupled with his impressive low numbers of runs, Luebke has logged a terrific Strikeout to Walk ratio of 17 to 7, and gone 6 or more Innings in his last 3 starts.
Overall, Luebke also leads the staff in Wins (3), has a 3-1 Record overall, and is sporting a 2.61 ERA over 31.0 Innings Pitched. At this point, Luebke has essentially pitched himself to the top of the staff and above veterans Volquez and Richard, and the emerging youngsters Bass and Joe Wieland.
Granted, we will have to wait and see whether or not this success will be sustained over the course of the season, but Luebke emerged as a decent starter down the stretch last season with the Padres and went 6-10 overall with a 3.29 ERA. The Front Office was so confident in his development, they gave him a contract extension running through 2015 with options for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. And if Luebke keeps pitching consistently, and giving San Diego quality outing after quality outing, Manager Bud Black would be hard pressed not to have Luebke at the top of his starting rotation.
At this point, I feel that Luebke has done enough to solidify his place at the top of the Frairs’ starting staff. If you did not happen to catch and/or hear about his masterful outing against Roy Halladay where he went 8 strong, shut out Philadelphia, gave up 2 Hits, and Struck Out 5, it was pretty darn cool. The job should be his until further notice. Yet if Luebke “falls back to Earth” in the coming weeks once Stauffer returns, Stauffer should be given every chance available to earn his job at the top of the rotation back if the opportunities present themselves.
But as stoked as I am on Luebke’s early season success, I am just as stoked for Stauffer’s return to the team though. Having a consistent pitcher like him added back into the mix will no doubt improve this group which has been plagued by inconsistency at times, and poor run support on a nightly basis. Even if Stauffer is not the #1 guy again, his presence will undoubtedly be huge, and it sure doesn’t hurt to know that he has pitched with some success before for this ballclub. So even though he might not be the “#1″ guy again, we should all cross our fingers for a speedy return by Stauffer. Luebke and Bass have been pitching really well lately, and it couldn’t hurt to add another starter with loads of experience to the mix.
With the run support the team’s starters have been given, all hands must be on deck. Otherwise it is going to be a long summer.
Share your thoughts now Friars fans: Is Luebke entrenched as the “#1 guy” now? Or will Stauffer re-assume his role upon his return?
Statistics Courtesy of: http://www.baseball-reference.com/