Buoyed by the longest homer in Petco Park history (thanks, Matt Kemp) and a straight steal of home (likewise, Melvin Upton Jr.), Drew Pomeranz threw a giant life preserver around the mound over seven shutout innings in a 4-0 win over the Colorado Rockies on Friday night (Saturday in Manila).
The left-hander’s effort couldn’t have come at a better time for a beleaguered bullpen that sunk so low a night earlier that manager Andy Green vowed to re-evaluate precisely how he dispatched his relievers in the short-term. The shakeup didn’t include any new faces in the clubhouse nor was the Padres’ rookie skipper ready to reveal much before sending left-hander Ryan Buchter — not Brandon Maurer — out to hold a four-run lead in the eighth inning.
“I don’t think it’s a long-term loss in faith in anybody,” said Green, adding that the ninth inning still belonged to closer Fernando Rodney and his pristine 0.00 ERA. “I think it’s a short-term design to regain confidence in some of our relievers to put them in a position to succeed. I fully expect the guys who are reshuffled a little bit to be back in the roles they were succeeding and thriving in for a good portion of the year.”
In due time, of course.
For now, the bullpen remains a unit in search of positive momentum after allowing 10 runs in 3 2/3 innings Thursday in the worst collapse in franchise history. While that meltdown is certainly bloating the resume of a bullpen that ranks among baseball’s bottom-dwellers in ERA (5.06, 28th), WHIP (1.49, 28th), opponent OPS (.791, 26th), the unit was without a lot of individual highlights outside early success from Rodney and left-handers Ryan Buchter and Brad Hand.
They ranked 29th in ERA in the first month of the season, 19th in May and entered Friday’s game with 27 earned runs allowed over the last seven games.
Brandon Maurer’s struggles over that stretch — nine earned runs in 1 1/3 innings — might be the most troubling after the Padres tapped the 25-year-old right-hander as an elder statesmen in a bullpen reconstructed on the fly after trading away Craig Kimbrel and Joaquin Benoit from last year’s shutdown unit.
To fill in those holes on a roster stressed by the hefty salaried owed to the likes of Kemp, Upton and James Shields, the Padres brought three Rule-5 pitchers to camp, they invited a gaggle of minor league lifers (Buchter, Buddy Baumann, Cesar Vargas, etc.) and they signed a handful of cheaper veterans (Rodney, Carlos Villanueva, Matt Thornton and Casey Jansen) to compete for spots with their returners.
Then the Padres traded away Nick Vincent just before the start of the season as part of the effort to stash Rule-5 right-hander Luis Perdomo (10.04 ERA) on the roster. They’ve also cycled through the likes of Kevin Quackenbush (4.64 ERA), Michael Kirkman (27.00 ERA), Keith Hessler (21.00 ERA), Leonel Campos (7.94 ERA) and Tayron Guerrero (4.50 ERA) in hopes of piecemealing a decent pen.
Calling on that group for 195 2/3 innings — more than all but one team — hasn’t helped matters.
“Maurer was a very good reliever last year; Kevin Quackenbush had been a very good reliever for a few years,” Green said. “There was some experience. There was some mid-level experience and there was some youth. The reality is that bullpens are tough to know how they are going to play out every single year. San Diego has had a great run and for a large portion of this year when you looked at our seven-eight-nine, they were as effective as the seven-eight-nine last year.
“They’ve run into a tough stretch here recently.”
Two days after needing the pen in the third inning of James Shields’ meltdown in Seattle, Green called on his relievers to hold what was once a 10-run lead only to see the Mariners chip away at it with seven consecutive two-out singles in the seventh.
Rodney was among those stunned at the turn of events as his former team blitzed his set-up men — Buchter (2.25 ERA) and Maurer (7.11 ERA) — for seven of the nine runs scored in the seventh.
“It’s hard; it’s a mental game,” said Rodney, who has yet to allow an earned run this season. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. When I saw the game in the sixth inning and we’re up by 10 runs, I was thinking we’d have a good night. This game is crazy.”
That’s among the messages that he and Villanueva planned to pass around the before the start of Friday’s game. The roles may change in the coming days, but they’ll have their opportunities to flip their scripts.
The key, Villanueva said, is to keep looking ahead.