During the opening week of the MLB season, the San Diego Padres were virtually serving up batting practice to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the starting pitching rotation was the key culprit.
But over the course of the next few weeks, their starting pitching began to stabilize and as a result, the major league Padres have begun to tread water in the National League’s West Division.
The strength of their Double-A Texas League counterparts in San Antonio was supposed to be the pitching staff.
Longtime pitching coach Jimmy Jones, now in his sixth season in San Antonio, was named the Mike Coolbaugh Texas League Coach of the Year in 2015 after the Missions had allowed the fewest home runs (79) in the Texas League last year. In addition, the 2015 Missions set a Texas League record with 1,156 strikeouts, tossed the third-most shutouts (11) and boasted a 3.36 ERA.
The Missions have led the league in ERA in three of the five years during the Jones era.
But aside from a few sharp outings from Cesar Vargas (who is now with the major league Padres) in the first week of the campaign and a handful of individual performances along the way, it has been a struggle for much of the season on the mound for San Antonio.
But over the course of the past two weeks, the Missions pitching staff has now shown signs of getting back on track and have kept the team competitive during their offensive woes over the past few weeks.
“Our pitching staff has been incredible.” Missions left fielder Nick Torres said. “They are the only reason we have been in games so far this season. We are swinging the bats well but it’s not translating into runs because we can’t seem to get everything clicking in the same inning. So for them to be picking us up is huge.”
Even though they surrendered seven runs to Arkansas on Friday, San Antonio has pitched to a 2.80 ERA (11 earned runs over 36 innings pitched) on their latest home stand. In a series against Northwest Arkansas a week before, the Missions staff combined for a paltry 1.33 ERA (4 earned runs over 27 innings pitched) good for fourth-lowest in the minors.
On the bump Saturday night for San Antonio, RHP Bryan Rodriguez allowed just four hits through five compete innings in a losing cause while Sunday’s starter Michael Kelly only allowed a single run in six innings work in a 2-1 12-inning win over Arkansas on Sunday.
“We are doing a better job being consistent every time we go out there to pitch.” Rodriguez said. “If we continue that we will be successful.”
There have been other bright spots in the rotation with RHP Jason Jester contributing seven saves in 13 appearances over 15 innings.
RHP Dominican Republic native Rafael De Paula has also been solid this season after making a rapid ascent from Single-A ball in Lake Elsinore to San Antonio back in April, striking out 28 batters in his fourteen appearances.
In fact, De Paula has performed well enough to warrant a brief stop in Triple-A El Paso.
Though there have been a few hits (Vargas, Jester and De Paula), the usual dominance from a traditionally pitching-rich team is still under construction but based on Jones’ terrific body of work with past staffs, it won’t be long before San Antonio returns to the model of consistency it has become over the past few years.
“We have definitely been pitching well enough to win ballgames.” San Antonio Manager Phillip Wellman said. “When I was (managing) in Arkansas (in 2014) we made two moves that changed the complexion of our season, so it can be done.”
By Mark Caul