Despite being known as one of the best pitching teams in the league for several seasons in a row, 2015 was a bit of a different story in San Diego. Coming off a season in which the Padres pitching staff struggled quite a bit, some changes were made in the rotation this offseason.
One of last year’s rotation stalwarts, Ian Kennedy, is gone, as he signed with the Kansas City Royals this offseason. The top three of Tyson Ross, James Shields, and Andrew Cashner are all still on the team despite a plethora of trade rumors. Going into Spring Training, those three were the only players guaranteed rotation spots. With the departure of Ian Kennedy, and continual question marks surrounding the fifth rotation spot, there are two rotation spots up for grabs for the Padres this Spring.
The following is a list of all the options vying for spots in the rotation this Spring.
So far this spring, Colin Rea has been the most impressive of any of the players vying for the two open rotation spots. In 14 innings, Rea has given up six earned runs with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP. Going into Spring Training, Rea was said to have gained quite a bit of muscle in the offseason, as he is looking to build upon a decent stretch in the major leagues to end last season. Rea has shown an ability to get batters out efficiently, although without much flair, which is really what the Padres should be looking for most in their final rotation spots. Rea perhaps has the ceiling of a number three starter, but he would certainly slot in nicely in either the fourth or fifth role in 2016. The last hurdle for Rea is proving he can stay healthy and be a consistent contributor for the Padres all season.
Next up on the list of players vying for a rotation spot is longtime Padre Robbie Erlin. Given the large roster turnover in San Diego over the last two offseasons, Erlin’s five years with the organization make him one of the longer tenured Padres. Erlin has struggled in limited major league playing time, posting ERAs over 4.00 in 2013, 2014, and 2015, although his innings totals were only 54 2/3, 61 1/3 and 17 in those three years. Despite these numbers, Erlin has been impressive so far this spring. In seven innings this spring, Erlin has given up only one run on five hits, good for an ERA of 1.29 and a WHIP of 0.86. Erlin is never going to overmatch hitters, but if he can maintain good pitch location and keep the ball down, he can certainly be a decent back end starter. Based on his performance so far, Erlin has made a pretty good case.
Unlike the previous two names mentioned, it is unclear how the Padres view Drew Pomeranz at this point. It was stated that the offseason acquisition would be given a chance to earn a job in the starting rotation, but so far he has been used more in the bullpen this spring. So far Pomeranz has given up six earned runs in seven innings pitch, a stark contrast to the performance of both Erlin and Rea to this point. Throughout his career, Pomeranz has faired better in the bullpen, and it seems he is a likelier fit for that role than the starting rotation.
Perhaps no Padres’ starter, and really no Padres’ pitcher, has performed worse so far this spring than Brandon Maurer. After a successful season in a bullpen role in 2015, marred slightly by a late season fatigue related injury, Maurer was given the chance to start this spring. The results have been a pretty clear disaster to this point. In just 5 2/3 innings, Maurer has given up a whopping 12 hits and 16 earned runs. In fairness to Maurer, he did have the flu during his last start against the Giants, but it still seems like he is overmatched as a starter, health or not. Based on this performance, and issues with fatigue at the end of last season, it just makes more sense to keep Maurer in the bullpen where he performs best. As a starter, he may just be in over his head.
It’s unclear how serious the Padres were about giving Luis Perdomo a shot to earn a spot in the starting rotation but, to this point, Perdomo has looked completely overmatched at best. In six innings pitched, Perdomo has given up 16 hits and 12 earned runs, good for an ERA of 18.00, which is topped only by the 25.41 ERA of Brandon Maurer. Given the fact that Perdomo is a rule five draft pick, he will need to stay on the Padres 25-man roster all season in order to stay with the organization. Based on his performance this spring, that now looks to be a long shot.
The final candidate for the last two rotation spots, and a real dark horse at that, is another holdover from last year in Brandon Morrow. After five stellar starts to start off the season, Morrow was sent to the disabled list where he remained for the rest of the season. Despite that injury, and some offseason setbacks pertaining to his health, Morrow returned to the mound on Sunday afternoon in a minor league game. In that game, Morrow gave up two runs on five hits with no walks and one strikeout, throwing 35 pitches over two innings. It’s unclear whether Morrow will be healthy for opening day, or if he will stay healthy, but if he can, he certainly has a real case for being in the starting rotation based on last year’s performance.
The Padres won’t need a fifth starter until April 13 in Philly, so Morrow has a “25-day window” to make it back, according to Green.
— AJ Cassavell (@AJCassavell) March 20, 2016
Given the options, and that Opening Day is exactly two weeks away, the Padres still have quite a bit of uncertainty with regard to their starting rotation. Ross, Shields, and Cashner are set at the top, but none of the remaining candidates have really solidified a spot in the rotation to this point. Both Rea and Erlin have been impressive, but the likes of Pomeranz, Maurer, and Morrow could still make a good enough case to earn a spot before camp breaks.
If I had to guess, Rea and Erlin would be the guys in the starting rotation on opening day, barring a return to health from Brandon Morrow. That leaves Pomeranz and Maurer in the bullpen where they can better succeed, and Luis Perdomo on his way back to the St. Louis Cardinals. Spring Training is a little more than halfway done, but the Padres still have a lot of work to do in solidifying their roster for Opening Day.