Seth Lugo’s long and winding path to the Padres

Credit: USA Today Sports

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The San Diego Padres began the season without two of their veteran starters. Yu Darvish participated in the World Baseball Classic. Joe Musgrove fractured a toe in spring training and recently “tweaked” his shoulder. Blake Snell, a veteran the Padres counted on, has lasted a total of eight innings with a 7.62 ERA.  A virtual unknown, Seth Lugo, has stepped up to pick up the slack.

Both the Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers showed interest in Lugo in the offseason, and the 33-year-old Lugo chose to come to San Diego on December 22. His salary (two-year $15 million) doesn’t make much of a dent in the outlays of a team that ranks third in payroll ($182,683,273). If Lugo can stay healthy, he could be a valuable member of a team built to win. He’s versatile and can be a starter or reliever

On Sunday, the Padres overwhelmed the Atlanta Braves 10-2. 42-year-old veteran Nelson Cruz provided six of the 10 runs. But, he insisted that pitching was the key to the big win and that, “At the end of the day, that’s how you win games. “

Lugo started and pitched six innings against the loaded lineup, giving up five hits and one run with five strikeouts. He did his best to give relievers a break–“Coming into today, I knew how the bullpen was feeling, and I was determined to get six.”

Drafted by the New York Mets in the 34th round in the 2011 draft, Lugo’s career has been short-circuited by one injury after another. In 2012, he had spinal fusion surgery for spondylolisthesis. For three months, he lay in bed, healing from the surgery. But that didn’t change Lugo’s career choice, and he pitched in his first professional game in 2013 with the Class A-Short season New York-Penn League.

Three years later, Lugo finally made his Major League debut in a win against the Chicago Cubs on July 1, 2016. The next month he won his first game, pitching five scoreless innings against the St. Louis Cardinals in their home park. That year he finished with a 5-2 record and a 2.67 ERA.

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The Mets assumed he would be part of the starting rotation the following season. But the injury bug bit again while pitching in the offseason for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic in honor of his Puerto Rican grandfather. He lost two more months thanks to a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament.

And so it went, one injury after another, from a shoulder impingement to an elbow injury requiring more surgery. In his entire career, beginning with the Mets in 2016, Lugo has appeared in 277 games, with 34 wins and a 3.42 ERA.

But the 33-year-old, 6-foot-4 right-hander refused to change his profession and has been rewarded with a two-year deal with the understanding that he would be used as both a starter and reliever. Lugo had not started a game since 2020, but so far, he looks like he belongs on the mound.

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