Over the last week, the Padres have flipped the script, winning six of their last seven and turning what was a 3-7 record into a 9-8 mark for the Spring.
Over that seven-game stretch, the Padres have outscored their opponents 48-26, scoring just shy of seven runs per game. On the pitching side, they have allowed 3.7 runs per game and are averaging 7.4 strikeouts per 9.0 innings pitched.
Paving the way for the pitching success has been the relief work of Brad Brach, Andrew Cashner, Alex Hinshaw, Miles Mikolas, Joe Thatcher and Dale Thayer. The six relievers have combined to allow just four earned runs over 25.2 innings of work, posting a cumulative 1.40 ERA. With Opening Day just over two weeks away, the battle for any open bullpen spots has reached a boiling point.
While the home squad was battling Yu Darvish and the media frenzy that accompanied him in Peoria, half of the Padres were in Goodyear to take on the Reds yesterday. Led by starter Cory Luebke, the Friars tossed a three-hit shutout, striking out 13 over the course of the afternoon.
Luebke paved the way, striking out four while allowing one hit and one walk over his 2.0 frames. Casey Kelly followed with 2.0 perfect innings and two strikeouts of his own. Relievers Andrew Cashner, Dale Thayer, Matt Palmer, Erik Hamren and Brad Brach shutout the Reds over the final 5.0 frames, striking out seven. Brach put on a show in the ninth, striking out the side to close out the game.
After yesterday’s games, the Padres have now struck out 39 in 43.0 innings of work, averaging 8.2 strikeouts per 9.0 innings pitched. San Diego’s relievers are averaging a strikeout per inning with 33 in their 33.0 innings this Spring.
One of the major differences between the 2011 and 2012 Padres will be the way the back-end of the bullpen lines up. This year’s squad welcomes new closer Huston Street along with the likes of flame-throwing Andrew Cashner.
Street comes to the Padres from Colorado, where he served as closer for the last three seasons, finishing third on the Rockies all-time list with 84 saves. Prior to the Rockies, Street pitched in relief for the A’s, who drafted him with the 40th overall pick in the 2004 Draft. He flew through the minors, making his Big League debut in 2005 and winning AL Rookie of the Year honors.
Since making his Big League debut in 2005, Street ranks among the top ML relievers in saves (10th), strikeouts (T-14th) and wins (T-7th). He has made at least 60 appearances in five of his seven Major League seasons, reaching 70.0 innings pitched on three occasions.
With 97 of his 417 career appearances coming at Coors Field, there is a feeling that his numbers (strong as they are) may even be inflated due to his home pitching environment. Over his seven-year career, Street has posted a 2.83 ERA (107 ER/340.0 IP) away from Denver, compared to a 4.11 mark (44 ER/96.1 IP) at Coors Field that has nudged his lifetime ERA to 3.11 (151 ER/436.1 IP).
Cashner, 25, was acquired by the the Padres from the Cubs in exchange for Anthony Rizzo. Projected to fill a bullpen void in the eighth inning this season, many think it won’t be long before he is slotted into the starting rotation. The right-hander features a fastball that has been known to touch triple-digits, giving him a high ceiling and providing plenty of excitement for Padres fans.
He made his Big League debut for the Cubs in 2010, pitching exclusively out of the bullpen. Cashner made 53 relief appearances that year, posting a 4.80 ERA (29 ER/54.1 IP) that was largely affected by back-to-back outings in which he surrendered six runs. Without those appearances, his ERA on the season would have been 2.89 (17 ER/53.0 IP).
Cashner was placed into the starting rotation for the Cubs in 2011, making one appearance before going down with a right rotator cuff strain. He returned on 9/5 and worked in six relief outings, tossing scoreless ball in five of those appearances.
For more on Cashner and the Padres expectations, check out this story by MLB.com’s Corey Brock.