Padres begin search for second lefty in bullpen
Recent trade for southpaw Torres could be first part of improving relief corps
SAN DIEGO -- One of the Padres' primary wishes this offseason was finding a left-handed pitcher for the bullpen.
Now it appears the team might actually be looking for a second southpaw for the bullpen in 2014.
The Padres, who recently traded for former Rays lefty Alex Torres, could have a second left-hander as part of their seven-man bullpen when the season opens on March 30 against the Dodgers.
General manager Josh Byrnes said Monday that the acquisition of Torres -- who is seen as a pitcher who can get righties and lefties out -- might actually open a spot for a left-handed specialist.
"There could be one spot in play," Byrnes said. "Ideally, you don't want to lower standards just to have two [lefties]. We won't force it to say we do."
But a second left-hander, in a division with several potent left-handed bats, could be a viable option for manager Bud Black in terms of flexibility as he begins to mix and match late in a game.
The Rockies have a very good left-handed bat in Carlos Gonzalez. The Dodgers have Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. Los Angeles' Gonzalez hit .314 against Padres pitching a year ago with six home runs and 14 RBIs in 19 games. The Giants have Brandon Belt, who hit .358 against the Padres last season with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 19 games.
"[Left-handed relievers are] probably more important in this division since games are so close and with low scoring and several good left-handed hitters," Byrnes said.
In addition to Torres, the Padres recently signed Tony Sipp to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Patrick Schuster was acquired from the Astros after the Rule 5 Draft, meaning he must stick to the big league roster all season.
The team also signed Zach Braddock to a Minor League contract, though his deal doesn't include an invitation to Spring Training.
To be sure, though, there will be innings for Sipp and Schuster as the team will take a hard look during Spring Training to see if there's a possible fit as a second left-hander in the bullpen.
Byrnes knows Sipp from the time they spent together in Arizona, but that doesn't necessarily mean Schuster is a long shot -- Rule 5 rules or not.
"The good news is that adding a lefty like Torres might actually help Schuster's chances," Byrnes said.
This is because the Padres don't view Torres as a lefty specialist in the least. He was actually better last season in getting righties out (.149 batting average against) than lefties (.175). Right-handed reliever Joaquin Benoit, who signed a two-year, $15.5 million free-agent contract this offseason, was stingy on left-handed hitters as well, allowing a .194 average.
"It helps that guys like Torres and Benoit can get both sides of the plate out as well," Byrnes said.
As it stands today, the bullpen would likely include closer Huston Street, Benoit, Torres, Dale Thayer, Nick Vincent, Tim Stauffer and possibly the second left-hander.
"We're pleased with where we're going heading into Spring Training," Byrnes said.
Last season, the Padres dealt lefty Joe Thatcher to the D-backs on July 31 in the Ian Kennedy trade. The team looked at lefties Tommy Layne (2.08 ERA) last season and Colt Hynes (9.00 ERA) after the Thatcher deal but both are no longer with the organization.