Bullpen full of options at closer

March 13th, 2021

The Padres haven't named a closer yet. The way they see it, they have four.

Still, manager Jayce Tingler has said he'd prefer to settle on one man for the ninth inning by the end of camp, and the Padres skipper has deemed the race for that spot "an open competition" this spring.

Quite a competition, too. The mid-February additions of and add two pitchers with ninth-inning experience to the back end of a bullpen that already featured and .

"In an ideal world, you'd like to have a set ninth inning guy," Tingler said. "Are we open to committee? Are we open to matchups? We are. But we'd love to come out of here feeling, 'Well, this is our ninth-inning guy,' and we can move forward.

"We're open to a lot of things. This early on in Spring Training, I don't think we're interested in announcing anything or giving somebody that title. We've got some open competition, and we'd like to play that out for the next couple weeks until we get a little bit more clarity."

That group boasts more than 250 saves among them (the majority of which belong to Melancon, who is entering his 13th season). Pagán -- perhaps the favorite for the role -- spoke with the media on Saturday, meaning all four have talked with reporters this spring, and all four have offered a similar refrain.

"I definitely want a shot at that role, but we've got four guys that have done it before and probably four or five more that have the ability to do it," Pagán said. "Yeah, obviously, I would love to be the closer. I'd love to have a 40-save season. But I could have a zero-save season -- we win a World Series, and I'm happy."

Injuries elsewhere in the Padres' relief corps might play a factor. José Castillo will miss the '21 season because of Tommy John surgery and Matt Strahm won't be ready for Opening Day as he works his way back from October patellar tendon surgery.

Among the four closer options, it was Pomeranz who posted the best season in '20 -- notching a 1.45 ERA with 14 K/9. But with those two left-handers on the shelf, the Padres might need the lefty Pomeranz to be a bit more flexible. If, say, Corey Seager, Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger are due up in the seventh, it might not be the best idea to have Pomeranz tied down to the ninth.

"I don't care when I pitch," Pomeranz said earlier this week. "I'm here to help the team win. Doesn't matter what inning that is for me. ... We have so many guys here that can finish games. I'm personally not tied to a role. They want me to close, that's fine. They want me to pitch the sixth, seventh, eighth, that's fine, too."

It's been a while since the Padres have entered camp with a legitimate closer competition. Kirby Yates and Brad Hand had locked down that role for the past four seasons. Considering the illustrious history of closers in San Diego, this might mark the first time in history the Padres have entered a season as contenders without an obvious ninth-inning man.

General manager A.J. Preller, in his typical freewheeling fashion, kicked the tires on a potential trade with Milwaukee for Josh Hader earlier this winter. According to sources, the high price tag on Hader was prohibitive, and those talks never seriously progressed.

Here's what to read into that: The Padres are open to another bullpen upgrade. But they don't view it as a necessity. Preller, sources said, would be wholly comfortable entering the season with his current closer options.

Now, the Padres merely have to assign that title to one of their four options. After two weeks of games, Melancon and Pagán have put forth mixed results, while Pomeranz and Kela -- in limited action -- have looked dominant. Don't read too much into those performances, Tingler cautioned.

"We're obviously not going to make a decision on that at this point," Tingler said. "We'll start to get a read over the next two weeks when we start to see these guys get out there, kick some rust off and they're starting to look like their A-game."

Worth noting
• Right fielder Wil Myers was a late scratch from Saturday's game with soreness in his right knee. He took part in the team's entire workout Saturday morning, but was withheld from the game as a precaution, Tingler said, in part because of the chilly temperatures.

"We're at the point of Spring Training right now, where unless we're feeling really good, we're not going to push through some minor aches and pains right now," Tingler said.

• Right-hander Dinelson Lamet threw another simulated inning on a Peoria Sports Complex back field on Saturday. He used all of his pitches, including five or six sliders, and a fastball that sat 95-96 mph.

Lamet, who missed the postseason last October after sustaining an elbow injury in his final start of the regular season, has yet to appear in the Cactus League and remains a question mark for the Opening Day roster. The Padres are, understandably, building him up slowly, but thus far, Lamet has passed every test.

• If Lamet isn't built up in time for Opening Day, his spot in the rotation might fall to left-hander Adrian Morejon – who certainly made a strong case for an Opening Day roster spot on Saturday.

The 22-year-old left-hander surrendered a leadoff home run to the D-backs’ Ketel Marte. But he bounced back nicely, working three crisp innings without allowing another run, while striking out five.

"Loved what I saw," Tingler said. "That was as sharp, as crisp as I've seen him. With all his pitches, he was really good."