He pitched in 10 games this spring, throwing 9 1/3 innings and allowing only 1 run to cross the plate for a sterling 0.96 ERA. Usually that would be more than enough to seal up a spot on a team’s bullpen coming out of spring, but it might not be enough for Adam Russell of the Padres this time.
It has nothing to do with his stuff, his performance, his attitude, or his salary. The Padres like him, and value him since he was one of the pieces they received in exchange for their former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy.
In this case it simply comes down to the numbers game, and the fact that he still has an option for the club to play with. The numbers work like this: The Padres appear to be starting the season with 5 starting pitchers (Garland, Young, Correia, Richard and Latos). That leaves 7 bullpen spots. Bell, Adams, Gregerson, and Thatcher as the lone lefty would be locks, with Russell, Mujica, Gallagher, and Stauffer battling for the final 3 spots. With Mujica, Gallagher and Stauffer all out of options, and pitching good enough to warrant keeping them around, the team finds itself in not so unusual situation of sending down a guy who may be throwing the best of the candidates, in order to keep depth at the position. (For further clarification on player options, and how they work please visit previous post “players options“) It’s simply stocking up your inventory, and moving the guy who is movable.
Fortunately for Russell, the cranky arm of Thatcher may put the lefty on the DL, thus opening up a spot for him. Sometimes a little thing like that can make the difference between a year in the minors or a year of major league service time, experience and salary. If Russell gets off to a hot start, when Thatcher is ready to return maybe a different decision is made on whom to keep. It’s amazing how careers can be made or missed simply for reasons other than performance.
Now there is always the chance that the Padres could scan the waiver wire in the next few days and grab a left handed reliever to fill that hole while Thatcher is down, and Russell could still find himself unfairly sent out. Thus is the life of a professional player, especially early in their career when options are still available to be played like a wild card to trump your performance. The only counter move is to keep playing great baseball, because eventually that is always a winning hand.