Every team has its “If” list as it gets ready for the season, for that team to be competitive. “If” we stay healthy, “if” that player can come back from his surgery, “if” the young phenom can translate his gaudy minor league stats into similar big league numbers, “if” the aging veteran can do it for just one more year, etc. The Padres are no exception, especially when it comes to their starting rotation. Here is the Padre “if” list for their starting rotation in my perceived order of importance.
- 1. Chris Young comes back strong from shoulder surgery: This is the most impacting “if” the Padres face with their pitching staff. If CY can come back to be their opening day starter and dependable top of the rotation guy the domino effect is reaching.First, the Pads will once again have an experienced guy on the mound every 5th day that can give you a chance to win, and potentially get you deep into the game (went 6 innings or more in 36 of his starts when healthy during 2007-2008 seasons).Second, it allows Kevin Correia, who did an unexpectedly solid job as the de facto ace last year, to comfortably be the #2 guy, Garland the #3, Richard the #4, and one of the 5 guys battling for the last spot to be a #5 guy. Much healthier scenario than instead having to ask each of those guys to move up in the order, and increase their level of responsibility, not to mention having to use whoever came up short in the 5th spot battle to essentially be the guy trying to replace the quality starts and innings that a healthy CY would have theoretically contributed – big hole to fill.
Third, CY is a guy who both wants to be a leader, and can be a good influence on younger guys (not as common a pair of attributes as you may think), and clearly being able to perform his craft gives him the platform to have the most meaningful and positive influence on the young arms around him.
Finally, he has shown in the past that he can be a big game guy. Seasons aren’t made or broken on individual games, but sometimes there are single mathcups that can be defining contests for a team’s turnaround, avoidance of momentum turning death spiral, or emergence of its character. For those showdowns having a guy you know will go into battle prepared, focused, and with a innate moxie to find a way to win no matter what the challenge he is facing is paramount. CY in my opinion has shown that mental toughness with his ability to stop losing streaks, pitch well against the best teams, flirt fearlessly with no-hitters on several occasions, and his having lead the Padres to their only post season victory in their past four post season appearances, spanning 25 years. He has looked healthy so far this spring, and actually ahead of where he is normally at this time of spring training.
- 2. Kevin Correia continuing his maturity and discipline on the mound: Last year, as mentioned above, Kevin had to step up as the Padres ace and he did a fine job, going 12-11 with a 3.91 ERA, and allowing 2 earned runs or lest in 16 of his starts. He put aside his naturally tendency to overthrow his live fastball to power through tough situations, and instead embraced a pitcher’s mentality of using all his pitches and trusting location instead of velocity with the game on the line. The result was his best season ever as a major leaguer, and a new found consistency to be a dependable starter. If he stays with that disciplined approach, no telling how much more he can find within himself and be able to add on to the almost 200 innings and 22 quality starts he posted last year while learning this new approach.
- 3. John Garland can be…well…John Garland: Not asking too much here other than for the established veteran to do what he has done each of the past 8 seasons – show up every 5th day, and give his team a chance to win. He has made 32 or more starts each season since 2002, and pitched between 191 and 221 innings. Veteran stability in the middle can be huge in saving the bullpen for the young arms that follow in the rotation the next two days, and be a calming presence that the youngsters can learn from. I don’t think anyone expects him to necessarily be a vocal leader, but rather a guy who can teach through example.
- 4. Clayton Richard can find the feel of a breaking pitch: Clayton showed he has a major league fastball, and quality changeup last season, but his breaking ball was not much of a factor. Hitters were able to eliminate that pitch from their list of concerns at times last year, and that left him very little margin of error with his fastball. He is working on it this spring with pitching coach Darren Balsley, and there is guarded optimism that he is starting to get the feel of one he can use for strike. This is an important next step for his future as a major league starting pitcher, and for the Padres who are depending on the 26 year old they received in the Peavy trade to be a left handed presence in their rotation.
- 5. Mat Latos can grow up: He has the arm, but does he have the makeup to get the most out of it. He is battling with 5 other pitchers for the last spot in the rotation, but clearly he has the most long-term up side. He has ace stuff at times, but his immaturity it appears, has kept him from advancing at a quicker pace. There are some signs of growth, as he has taken the mechanical changes and the addition of a curveball that Balsley gave him at the end of last season, and come into camp this spring having clearly worked on them both. Maybe he is finally starting to take his career seriously, and is willing to put in the dedication and focus that his god given ability deserves. If so look out.
- 6. Gallagher and Stauffer can regain their previous promise: Stauffer has been stalking the Padre rotation for 6 seasons now. Early on I thought he could be a #2 guy with his fastball and curveball command, but it hasn’t come together. Not because the stuff isn’t there, but more in my opinion because of a lack of confidence in that stuff at times, and a missing “your ass is mine” attitude when the going gets tough. He showed more of both last year, especially in his first 5 or 6 outings, but then seemed to slip back into some old habits as the season finished. If he can keep challenging early, stay away from the timid nibbling, and be more of an a-hole when he needs to be, he can be a nice piece here. As for Gallagher, no one seems to know what happened to the 4-5 MPH that disappeared from his fast ball from a few years ago, but he appears to at least be back into the low 90’s now, and learning how to pitch at that speed. He, along with Stauffer, can add some important depth to either the rotation or possibly the bullpen as a long man/6th starter if they don’t earn a rotation spot out of spring, and aren’t lost through waivers (both are out of options).
Hey, of course this is a big list, and maybe larger than the “if” list for other starting rotations in the division (maybe not, if you look at the Diamondbacks), and other “if” exist, but these appear to me to be the most relevant to this year’s starting rotation, and to the Pads ability to stay a factor in the N.L. West in 2010.