The beginning of the 2013 season was marked by painful showings from the pitching staff. In Edinson Volquez’s first three starts, he made it through the 4th inning only once. He was 0-3 with an 11.68 ERA. In Clayton Richard’s first five starts, he lost three games and made it through the 6th inning once. Neither one survived the season. Andrew Cashner was pitching out of the bullpen, and recent acquisition Tyson Ross was injured. The Padres started the season 5-15. After that dreadful April, Andrew Cashner was inserted in the rotation. Ross made his way back, working out of the bullpen until he was 100%.
That April marked one of two low points in the Padres’ 2013 season, the other being the 10-game losing streak from games 51-61. Cashner lifted the team in his next 25 starts, posting a sterling 3.01 ERA. Cashner’s highlight of the season included a near-perfect game against Pittsburgh in which he faced the minimum amount of hitters.
On trade deadline day, the Padres made a quiet pick-up, adding former Cy Young Award candidate Ian Kennedy in exchange for Joe Thatcher and Matt Stites, a couple of relievers. In Kennedy’s next 10 starts, the Padres won 6 games. Kennedy posted an ERA of 4.24 and struck out 55 in 57 innings.
Around the same time, youngster Tyson Ross made his way back into the rotation, starting 13 more games in which he struck out 85 and posted an ERA of 2.93. The 26-year old Berkeley native was acquired from the Oakland A’s in exchange for infielder Andy Parrino and starter Andrew Werner. Neither of them have performed well since the deal.
Two young pitchers in particular excelled in 2013, Burch Smith, a former 10th round pick in the draft and Robert Erlin, acquired for Mike Adams. Smith started in High A, before showing that he was much better than the competition there, posting an ERA under 2.00. He continued his excellence at Double-A, enabling him to be called up by the pitching starved Padres who had just lost Clayton Richard to injury. His first stint in the big leagues didn’t last long. He didn’t make it out of the second inning in two of his starts. After refinement of his pitches in Triple-A and a quick trip to the majors as reliever depth, he was given another spot in the rotation. In his four September starts, Smith posted a 3.80 ERA and struck out 31 (7.25 per start).
Erlin, the other young starter, also finished the season stronger than he started it. The 22-year old rookie had a few mediocre starts in the majors followed by a shuttle back to Tucson. But the real Erlin came out in the way he finished the season. In 5 starts, he posted a 1.97 ERA and struck out 24. His control was also sharp, as he only walked 7 batters in 32.0 innings. I had the privilege of being able to attend his start in Atlanta against the Braves, and he was on top of his game, only surrendering two runs (including a home run to Freddie Freeman).
The Padres, after starting the season off poorly, have something to look forward to next season. Specifically a possible breakout season from Burch Smith or Robbie Erlin. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross figure to lead the rotation, with Ian Kennedy and a rehabbing Cory Luebke to fill out the next two slots. Erlin and Smith are expected to fight over the 5th slot in the rotation, but Luebke has had many setbacks and 6-man rotations aren’t unheard of.
Bottom Line: Expect Improvement