Here are the needs improvement guys:
Christian Bethancourt gets a little bit of slack because of his enormous ambition. Yes, it has been ugly.
On Opening Day, the catcher-turned-utility player-turned-relief pitcher, came in to relieve Jhoulys Chacin, who was crashing and burning.
Bethancourt didn’t fare much better. He allowed three earned runs in 1 1/3 innings. After coming in in the fourth inning, he threw two separate wild pitches that allowed Chacin’s runners to score. He returned to the mound in the fifth and gave up a three-run home run to Corey Seager.
That’s when Diaz came in to rescue him. It had seemed like a good strategy on manager Andy Green’s part to get Bethancourt into a game early in the season so that he could get first-game jitters out of the way. Unfortunately, his next outing was also pretty rough. On Thursday he came in to start the seventh inning, but after getting the first out, he walk four batters in a row, all who ended up scoring after Bethancourt was relieved by Brad Hand. So you may be asking, “how does Bethancourt exemplify a bright spot in the bullpen?” My response is this; he’s so green on the mound. He’s doing battle every time he’s out there and he’s taking his lumps. If he puts it all together and possibly adds another plus pitch to his repertoire, he could be a valuable weapon down the line with his versatility. In this case, I’m looking at development over numbers at the moment. Bethancourt’s experiment is a low risk/high reward aspect of the “trust the process” movement in my estimation.
Jared Cosart had a bad day on Thursday. As referenced above, he didn’t make it past ⅔ inning in his 2017 debut, walking three batters and giving up an earned run. He wasn’t exactly the effective complementary piece to a soft-tossing Jared Weaver that we were hoping for. It was only one outing though, so he’ll be given the opportunity to bounce back. He should be able to make adjustments and put it together moving forward.
Carter Capps is almost back from Tommy John surgery. He pitched one inning of relief at the end of spring training and while he wasn’t his dominant self circa 2015 just yet, he looked good and healthy which was the only goal of the outing. He started the season on the 10-day DL and hopes to be seeing game time as early as mid-April. When he becomes available he could provide a serious boost to an already upward-trending bullpen.
Finally, here are the guys we expected to perform:
Ryan Buchter had a 2.86 ERA with 78 strikeouts,a save, and 34 holds in 63 innings in 2016. The crazy spin rate on this lefty’s pitches make him very tricky for batters to hit. He was a diamond in the rough find for the Padres last year and they have relied on him to keep games close in the late innings. He’s had one appearance in 2017. On Wednesday he made his debut, getting the last two outs of the eighth inning after Diaz struck out Forsythe for the first out. Buchter notched one strikeout in his outing and allowed no earned runs. He will continue to be a valuable arm at the back-end of the bullpen.
In 2016 Brad Hand held a 2.92 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP with 21 holds in 89.1 innings pitched. His 111 strikeouts were the third-highest in a season for a Padres relief pitcher. Like Buchter, Hand came out of nowhere. He was signed by the Padres at the beginning of 2016 after being DFA’d by the Miami Marlins. Boy, was that a mistake. Brad Hand became on of the most dominant relief pitchers in baseball in 2016.
On Tuesday, Hand made his 2017 debut, tossing a clean ninth inning to finish off the shutout for Clayton Richard, who went eight complete innings. Hand needed only 11 pitches to get the job done. Classic Hand. His appearance in Thursday’s game was not nearly as neat and tidy. Hand was the lucky one designated to clean up Bethancourt’s mess, with the bases loaded after four consecutive walks. He was able to get out of the inning without amassing any earned runs of his own, but not without allowing all of Bethancourt’s baserunners to score. Hand is going to be a stronghold for the Padres down the stretch. He may be a very valuable trade chip come deadline time. Enjoy him while he lasts.
Finally, there’s Brandon Maurer; our de facto closer. He became the closer in 2016 after Fernando Rodney was traded to the Marlins on June 30. On July 1, Maurer recorded his first save for the Padres of the season. From July 1 to the end of the season he amassed a 3.09 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP, with 25 strikeouts, five walks, and 13 saves in 32 innings. He put together an ERA of 0.73 in the month of July. He begins the 2017 season resuming his role, once again, as the team’s closer. On Thursday he made his 2017 debut, even though it was a blowout, just to get some work in. There have been no save situations for him to work over the span of the four-game series. He pitched a clean eighth inning to prevent any further damage. He, like Hand and Buchter, is a very valuable asset at the back-end of the Padres’ bullpen. Let’s hope he gets a decent amount of opportunities to close some games out this season.
So there it is. With one series down, the team has showcased the talent that it has in the bullpen. Many innings were offered to the younger and less experienced arms so that they could be allowed to get their major league exposure early and often. It didn’t make it a tough decision for Green to use his younger guys during the two very lopsided games of the series. We got a chance to see flashes of the back-end guys and they looked good. Many of us were saying that the bullpen will be the Padres’ strongest component in 2017. I think this bullpen could be even better than we thought.