Travis Radke earned spring invite from Padres

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Credit: LA Times

Travis Radke is in Peoria this spring with the major leaguers and competing for a job with the San Diego Padres.

San Diego Padres’ pitching prospect Travis Radke may not be someone you are familiar with, but he is in major league camp this spring competing for a job.

The 26-year-old battled through five minor league seasons to get where he is at this point in his baseball career. There have been many obstacles, including Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2016 season. No matter the hurdle, Radke surpassed the issue and progressed in the game.

Originally drafted as a starting pitcher, the University of Portland product pitched in 16 games his first full season with the Padres in 2015. In those 16 starts for the Dust Devils, TinCaps, and Storm, Radke recorded a 5.97 ERA and a 1.557 WHIP. Not the most spectacular numbers, but admirable for his first taste of pro ball. There was much to learn for the young pitcher.

Spending the next season on the shelf because of injury taught Radke a lot about life as a professional pitcher. He admits that he had to “re-invent” himself out on the mound. Transitioning from a starting pitcher and being prepared every five days is much different than possibly throwing three or four times a week. Fresh from elbow surgery, Radke responded right away in Tri-City during the 2017 season. The lefty recorded a 1.80 ERA and a 0.650 WHIP in 14 games, and 20 innings pitched in his first stint back from the injury.

In 2018, the Fort Wayne TinCaps needed a closer. The lefty stepped in and produced 14 saves and a 1.74 ERA in 57 innings pitched. During that span, he walked only nine batters and struck out 77 men. Radke spent the end of the season in Double-A and threw in the offseason for the Peoria Javelinas. The experience in the AFL helped further his progression in the game, especially for the coming season. Or so Radke thought.

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Frustration was one way to describe how Radke felt as we spoke on Media Day in 2019 for the Lake Elsinore Storm. “I want to force the Padres’ hand,” Radke proclaimed. The pitcher started the year once again in Single-A and was clearly upset about the situation. The left-handed pitcher vowed to ride through the system. His stop with the Storm was brief, as Radke played only four games at the level before a promotion to Amarillo in April. The California native completed 2019 with a 4-2 record, and a 2.64 ERA in 71.2 innings pitched, including 24 games with the El Paso Chihuahuas.

For the most part, Travis Radke’s velocity on his fastball sat in the 86-88 mph range before the 2019 season. The savvy pitcher struck out hitters despite the lower speed, simply because he would set them up early in the count. The southpaw is extremely aggressive early in the count. Velocity was never really an issue for him, but the left-hander showed increased speed on the fastball this summer. Now comfortably sitting at 91-92 mph, Radke enjoyed a new sense of enjoyment while pitching. The uptick in velocity came by accident, but that is alright for Radke. “After pulling my lat slightly early in the season, I brought my arm angle down just an inch or so, and I felt a lot less discomfort. Shortly thereafter, the velocity began to increase as well as the cut movement on my fastball,” Radke said. The cut movement on his fastball was something he featured immediately after TJ surgery, but he was unable to replicate it. There is a sense from the pitcher that he now has an idea of how to effectively cut the fastball. This veteran minor leaguer will significantly utilize the extra movement.

Radke and his grind is an admirable journey. The left-hander worked a 40-50 hour a week job this winter just to keep his head above water financially. This is something he has done for a few seasons. He was a 25th-round pick almost six years ago. The pitcher’s signing bonus money is long gone. And though the Padres support him in his quest to pitch with all that is needed, the team cannot simply satisfy the thirst of their minor leaguers when it comes to their financial commitments. When we spoke a few weeks ago, the pitcher literally threw on his lunch hour at a local park. By himself. Just a ball and a park restroom, which served as his backstop. His commute to work did not allow him to get to a facility. But he needed to get his work done. That is the type of commitment Radke displays. No excuses. Just get it done.

Not blessed with a 100 mph fastball does not stop this lefty from attacking hitters at will. Radke prides himself on getting ahead of hitters and achieves the task in several different ways. The more you see him pitch, the more impressed you become. In time, one would expect Radke to be a useful player for the Padres. Even in a crowded system, he easily shows the traits you like to see from a potential bullpen member.

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