As the Padres were culling players from the Spring Training roster, paring the team down to 25 players, there was a lot of speculation about who would make the team. In a Spring where 46 pitchers threw to at least one batter for San Diego, there was certainly no shortage of choices. On the final day before the season started, Andy Green made the final three selections for the Opening Day roster: starting pitcher Colin Rea, infielder Adam Rosales, and left-handed reliever Ryan Buchter. Wait a minute, who?
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The final bullpen spot was expected to go to Josh Martin, the Rule 5 pick from the Indians who had put up a 10.7 K/9 rate while firing his way to a 2.27 ERA in AA last year. But as promising as Martin was, the Padres instead gave that coveted final bullpen slot to Buchter, a ten-year veteran of the minor leagues.
Buchter’s selection wasn’t completely out of left field. He earned his way onto the team with an impressive showing in Peoria, holding hitters to a .233 batting average (fourth best among pitchers with eight or more innings pitched) and an eye-popping 13.5 K/9 rate. The Padres were impressed enough with Buchter that they designated Martin for assignment, virtually assuring that they’d have to return the prospect to Cleveland. And so Buchter, the career minor-leaguer who had a prior total of one inning pitched in the majors, was the one putting on the San Diego uniform on Opening Day.
It turned out to be a good decision.
Buchter has become a staple of Green’s bullpen, appearing in 13 of the Padres first 28 games. He has not just held his own, he has dominated, holding opposing hitters to a miniscule .146 average while allowing only one run in 12.2 innings, good for a 0.71 ERA. Only closer Fernando Rodney, who has yet to allow a run as a Padre, has a better ERA.
After spending so long in the minors, is Buchter surprised by his success? Not in the least.
In an interview on Padres Social Hour with Mike Janela and Bob Scanlan, Buchter indicated that he’s been ready for the majors for a while. “Honestly, I thought I should have been in the big leagues last year, even the year before. I view those last two years as a waste in my career, because I’ve had my best stuff, and what I’m doing now is basically what I’ve done the last two, three years even.”
Buchter’s numbers back up that claim. Last season, with the Dodgers’ and Cubs’ AAA affiliates, Buchter put up a 1.78 ERA with 62 Ks in 50.2 innings. In winter ball in Mexico, he bettered that with a 0.72 ERA in 25 innings.
Buchter relies almost exclusively on one pitch – the fastball. But unlike many relievers who rely largely on the heat, Buchter doesn’t throw in the upper 90s. According to A.J. Cassavell, his low 90s speed is effective because of the high-spin rate of the four-seamer, which creates late movement on the pitch. This prevents hitters from making good contact, and so far, hitters haven’t been able to solve it. And that’s very good for the Padres’ bullpen.
Let’s be glad that Ryan Buchter isn’t wasting his best stuff in the minors any more.