The Padres weren't expected to compete in 2012, but it was believed they would show off some of their youth and the future of the team, giving fans reasons to hope in seasons after this transitional one. The baseball gods look down on those who plan things out, though, and for the arrogance of the city of San Diego, they struck down not one, not two, but basically every pitcher with a promising future in a Padres uniform this season.
Cory Luebke, who dominated as a starter after shifting back to the role in 2011, was supposed to anchor this season's staff. Instead, his elbow gave out, and he went under the knife, Tommy John style. Andrew Cashner, acquired for Anthony Rizzo this past off-season, has made 27 relief appearances, but the Padres decided to let him give starting a try. This was a promising development, as the Rizzo/Cashner swap only made sense if the latter was going to start, but after just three games, he's now on the disabled list with a shoulder strain, this time to the latissimus dorsi (2011's shoulder strain was due to his rotator cuff).
Joe Wieland, acquired last trade deadline in the Mike Adams deal along with Robbie Erlin, is undergoing Tommy John surgery at the same time this year. Anthony Bass, yet another rotation-worthy 20-something, has been on the DL with shoulder inflammation since mid-June. Tim Stauffer, expected to slot in behind Luebke as one of the club's more dependable starters, has thrown exactly five innings in 2012 thanks to an elbow strain that has him on the 60-day DL.
You might have noticed, but if not, we'll do the counting for you: That's an entire rotation worth of pitchers who are on the disabled list for San Diego, two of them absolutely not returning until sometime in 2013 thanks to major elbow surgery. Erlin hasn't had escaped Double-A yet because of injury, and Casey Kelly, also expected to be up sometime this year, has tossed just 12 innings for Triple-A Tucson thanks to his elbow.
Amazingly, San Diego still has two pitchers in their 20s in the rotation, and they have been there all season: Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez, both 28 years young, and both around the league average in ERA+. Other than that, though, it's been something of a magical adventure through time and space to fill in the blanks.
There was a point in time in 2012 when Jeff Suppan was in the San Diego Padres rotation. In fact, he's still made the fifth-most starts of anyone else to appear on the mound for the Padres this year, and therefore his name is displayed prominently on San Diego's team page at Baseball-Reference. Now's your moment to decide which fact is sadder: the above, or that, with just six starts, Suppan has made more starts than all but four other starters for the Padres in 2012.
Suppan, now 37 years old, had not pitched in the majors since 2010, when he posted his second consecutive 78 ERA+, splitting time between the Brewers and Cardinals. He performed like that was all as true as it is during his brief San Diego stint, averaging five innings per start, striking out just seven batters in 30 frames, and to top it off, posted a higher home run per nine (1.2) than K/BB (0.5).
The Padres cut ties with Suppan, but that didn't stop their excursions into the past. The Twins let Jason Marquis go after seven starts resulted in a 0.9 K/BB and nearly as many homers allowed (nine) as strikeouts (12). The Padres scooped him up, but unlike with the Suppan experiment, this one has worked out. Marquis has thrown 49 frames in eight starts, and owns what would currently be the loftiest strikeout rate of his entire 13-year career. It's easy enough to make a joke about how low a bar that is, but 8.3 per nine is more than respectable, and it's also 1.5 higher than his best ever.
Marquis was a huge (and unexpected) get, but their next flier hasn't gone nearly as well. Kip Wells might own a 2.82 ERA in his four starts, but that's one of the greatest small sample size ERA in recent memory: Wells has walked 5.2 batters per nine, allowed four homers in 22 innings, and has struck out just nine batters. He's not doing it with ground ball outs, either: he's simply letting tons of runners on, but standing nearly all of them whenever the ball doesn't go over the fence.
That shtick will likely last just slightly longer than it did for Suppan, since Wells has managed to get away with it for the time being. Like Suppan, Wells hasn't been in the majors for a few years -- 2009, in Wells' case -- and wasn't even in the minors in 2011. His K/BB at Tucson was just 0.8, and the Padres called him up anyway. Just in case you were wondering how desperate their situation has become.
Things are at the point where Wells not only has a job, but he's listed as the fourth starter for the Padres at MLB.com. As for the fifth spot, Ross Ohlendorf has made sporadic starts, with mixed, Ohlendorfian results, but at least he's still in his 20s, and not years removed from the majors. Of course, if his season goes anything like his past ones, or like it has for the other 20-somethings on the roster, Ohlendorf might as well just book a surgery for August now while there's still room.
The Padres still have a bright future on the mound, even if it's not as evident as it should have been. It's a shame that this injury-riddled season might have pushed San Diego's window for competing back yet another year, but that's the thing with young pitchers. Sometimes, you get young phenoms, and others, you interrupt Kip Wells' golf game to see when the last time he threw a baseball was.