San Diego Padres: Starting pitching depth key for postseason berth

Sep 29, 2022; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres relief pitcher Adrian Morejon (50) reacts as Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Will Smith (left) rounds the bases after hitting a home run during the eighth inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 29, 2022; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres relief pitcher Adrian Morejon (50) reacts as Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Will Smith (left) rounds the bases after hitting a home run during the eighth inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports /

As the start of spring training games is upon us, the San Diego Padres have a strong trio atop their starting rotation. With Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell penciled in, the Padres have three of the top starters in the National League.

Unfortunately, questions remain with the fourth, fifth and sixth spots in the San Diego Padres rotation.

Nick Martinez, Seth Lugo and newly-signed Michael Wacha are expected to pitch in those positions, but each has issues that could plague them. Injuries could crop up or a lack of production on the mound will jeopardize their spot in the rotation. In hindsight, the Padres may have wished to have kept some of the quality minor league starting pitching talent that was traded away.

Rarely does Padres general manager A.J. Preller plays it conservatively when it comes to improving his team’s roster. But the lack of starting pitching depth at the minor league level could be troublesome for the Friars if injuries or lack of production occur moving forward through the 2023 season. Preller and his staff must identify which talent in spring training could make an impact on the diamond this summer.

Left-hander Adrian Morejon

One of the top candidates to receive a few starts in 2023 is Adrian Morejon, who has fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. It was two years before he could get back on the mound. Morejon bounced back with a 4.24 ERA, holding opposing batters to a .238 batting average and striking out 19.9 percent of all batters faced in 26 appearances last season. Also, he kept the ball inside the ballpark as he allowed a home run 2.8 percent of the time.

But questions remain if Morejon could maintain the same efficiency as a starter. The threat of injury lingers with the increased workload. Clearly, he has value as a member of the Padres bullpen, but the transition to a starter’s role is unknown. Morejon has only eight career MLB starts. At 23, he is young enough to begin the process with the intent of him becoming an impactful component of the Friars rotation down the road. It is safe to say that Padres manager Bob Melvin would like Morejon to remain a valuable bullpen piece, but he must keep him as an option for a spot start this season.

Left-hander Cole Hamels

Cole Hamels is the most recognizable name on the Padres’ spring training invitation list. At one time, Hamels was a top-tier starting pitcher in the majors. But he has not recorded 10 wins or more in a season since 2017. Hamels went 11-6 with a 4.20 ERA in 24 starts with the Texas Rangers, and he has not pitched in the majors since 2020 with the Atlanta Braves. Hamels suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him. He attempted a comeback with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2021 but re-injured his arm in a simulated game. The jury is still out on whether Hamels will catch on with his hometown team coming out of Peoria.

When healthy, he has a knack for limiting damage by opposing hitters. For his major league career, Hamels has a 1.183 WHIP, striking out 23 percent of the batters faced while walking only 6.9 percent. Granted, his velocity is not what it used to be, but he is better than most spot starters in the majors today. However, no one has the answer if Hamels’ effectiveness fades away after making 10 or more starts.

Left-hander Ryan Weathers

Ryan Weathers is one of the top high-velocity hurlers in the Padres organization. The Friar Faithful took notice of Weathers as he pitched well in the postseason of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but he struggled in 2021. Some believe the workload (94.2 IP) as the staff’s long man/spot starter, combined with a foot and ankle injury, drained him of all his energy. Last season in El Paso (Padres minor league affiliate) was an utter disappointment. Weathers had a 6.73 ERA in 31 appearances. He gave up 163 hits in 123 innings pitched.

At 22, Weathers can pitch his way back into the hearts of the Friar Faithful. The fans have always appreciated his blue-collar approach on the mound. He still can produce solid results as Weathers has an 18 percent strikeout rate, 7.5 percent walk ratio and induced a 43.6 percent amount of ground balls hit by opposing hitters. Keep in mind, he has options remaining, so Weathers might be stored in minors until needed.

Most MLB teams fail to make it through a season without someone in the rotation missing starts. The goal is to have more starting pitching than you know what to do with.

If the Padres feel these depth options are not good enough, they have other candidates who are ready to make a contribution this season. So, there will be opportunities for minor league pitching talent to make a name for themselves.

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For at least through the first month of the campaign, the San Diego Padres will go with a six-man rotation. It will help to preserve Wacha, who battled shoulder issues with the Boston Red Sox last season. Martinez and Lugo may need a breather and skip a start or two to keep them fresh on the mound. If everyone pitches to expectations, the Friars could be on their way to capturing another postseason berth.