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Mitchell ready to take advantage of fresh slate

Inconsistent role and injuries affected career, but trade presents new opportunity
MLB.com @AJCassavell

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Bryan Mitchell arrived in Padres camp two weeks early this spring, sporting long hair and a well-trimmed beard. His new look told a story of opportunity.

Mitchell spent the first eight years of his professional career with the Yankees, an organization notorious for its strict grooming policies. More importantly, he toiled the last four seasons in a sort of limbo -- between the rotation and the bullpen, between Triple-A and the Majors.

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Bryan Mitchell arrived in Padres camp two weeks early this spring, sporting long hair and a well-trimmed beard. His new look told a story of opportunity.

Mitchell spent the first eight years of his professional career with the Yankees, an organization notorious for its strict grooming policies. More importantly, he toiled the last four seasons in a sort of limbo -- between the rotation and the bullpen, between Triple-A and the Majors.

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Three thousand miles away, the Padres' front office schemed different ways to acquire the right-handed North Carolina native. For three years, the club's decision makers have believed his fastball/curveball combination would play well in their rotation.

That opportunity finally presented itself during the offseason, when San Diego landed Chase Headley and Mitchell for the cost of outfielder Jabari Blash (and, more notably, the remaining $13 million on Headley's contract).

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"It definitely speaks to how they value me," said Mitchell. "This is pretty much what I've been trying to get to for the last three or four years. I've kind of been stuck in that back-and-forth spot. This is exactly what I need, and I'm honored they were able to give me the chance."

Mitchell made his Cactus League debut in Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Angels in Tempe. He showcased his complete arsenal and allowed a hit and a walk over two scoreless innings

Tweet from @Padres: 🔒���ed in for his first start as a Padre: Bryan Mitchell 💪 #PadresST pic.twitter.com/mWNMlfc65l

Unlike in New York, Mitchell is in the rotation to stay. He's out of options, too, and the Padres have all but assured him of a place in their starting five.

"Personally, I've always trained as a starter, and I've always viewed myself as a starter," Mitchell said. "To be honest, I never even thought too much about the relieving side of it."

The numbers bear out Mitchell's assertion that he's a starter first. He owns a 5.77 career ERA from the 'pen, compared with a 3.76 mark as a starter.

The club also believes Mitchell's repertoire is one that should work as he navigates a lineup multiple times. He'll mix and match from among his four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball and cutter. And he'll complement the hard stuff with what Padres manager Andy Green called "as good a curveball as you'll see."

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"It's great for him, gives him some certainty that he hasn't had, and sometimes that's all a guy needs," Green said. "It's not about some expert coaching you're giving him. It's about, 'Hey, man, you spin the heck out of a curveball, your cutter's really good, your fastball's alive. Go pitch.'"

Go pitch. That's all Mitchell has ever asked to do. In New York, that opportunity was sporadic.

When he did get his chances, he was stymied by a pair of freak injuries. In 2015, Mitchell was struck in the face by a line drive and sustained a broken nose. In '16, he missed three months after fracturing a bone in his toe.

"I had a couple little small injuries," Mitchell said. "But it was just the situation I was in. They had a lot of depth. They had a lot of 40-man starters at Triple-A for the last couple years, and they had a stacked bullpen. The jobs were few and far between."

After eight years of reporting to camp in Tampa, Fla., Mitchell made sure he got to Peoria early this spring, arriving Jan. 31.

"It's different, but it's the same," he said of Padres camp. "I wanted to get here a little early, get acclimated with everyone, how they run everything and the process of how spring's going. But once you get in the swing of things, when pitchers and catchers reported, it's kind of felt the same."

It's felt the same -- aside from his newfound opportunity. And, of course, the facial hair policies, too.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Bryan Mitchell