Fresh off their first postseason appearance in 14 years and an offseason full of big-name acquisitions, the Padres oozed optimism on the morning their pitchers and catchers officially reported to the Peoria Sports Complex on Wednesday.
The only thing tempering that optimism in the slightest? Question marks about Dinelson Lamet.
The 28-year-old right-hander broke out as a legitimate ace in 2020, posting a 2.09 ERA, which qualifies as the lowest mark in franchise history. Even in a rotation that features four other pitchers who have earned recent Opening Day starts, it's Lamet who might be the favorite for that nod this year -- if he makes it there healthy.
And therein lies the most important question in Padres camp this spring. Will Lamet -- who missed the postseason because of a murky elbow/biceps ailment, then received a platelet-rich plasma injection in October -- make it to Opening Day with a healthy right elbow?
So far, so good.
"Right now, we feel really good about where he's at," Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. "He's going to be throwing his bullpens and building up from there."
Lamet began throwing in December, and he worked his way onto the mound in January. He's in camp, throwing on mostly the same schedule as the rest of the team's starters.
"He's been doing everything that our trainers and pitching coaches have recommended," Tingler said. Each guy is going to be a little bit individual with their build-up. We're going to go step by step and make sure we're good to go."
One key hurdle remains, however. Lamet's slider is his best pitch and easily one of the best in the entire sport. He's been throwing those from flat ground, but he's yet to use it in his offseason bullpen sessions.
That's not unusual for pitchers at this stage of spring. But getting Lamet throwing his slider with regularity remains a noteworthy step -- perhaps the most important one -- in his path toward recovery. Lamet, after all, was the only starting pitcher in baseball last season to use his slider at a clip higher than 50%.
Padres 'open-minded' about bullpen, closer races
The Padres opened camp with a pair of options at closer in Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagán. That number will double when Mark Melancon and Keone Kela pass their physicals and complete COVID-19 intake screenings. The team has yet to confirm those two signings.
"We have a lot of guys that have done it or are capable of doing it," Tingler said of the forthcoming battle for the closer spot. "It's good to have options and a ton of flexibility. That's what we have."
Beyond those four, the Padres should see a mix of about 12 pitchers vying for the final four or five places in the bullpen.
Tingler made it clear that the first order of business is building his pitchers toward a more substantive workload in 2021. After that, the roles for those pitchers are almost entirely TBD.
"We're incredibly open-minded," Tingler said. "We're not pot committed to one way right now. We're going to stay extremely flexible."
• Ryan Weathers and Adrian Morejon were both useful pieces in the Padres' bullpen last postseason. But the team's current plan is for the two 21-year-old left-handers to be stretched into starters, at least at the start of camp, Tingler said.
Right-hander Michel Baez, meanwhile, will also be lengthened, but the expectation is that he will be stretched out as a multi-inning reliever.
• Catcher Luis Campusano is in Padres camp, following his October arrest for marijuana possession. Tingler declined to get into specifics but said he doesn't expect legal issues to affect Campusano's status.
"We don't expect any limitations going forward," Tingler said. "So we feel good about where he's at in his situation."
Campusano, the team's No. 3 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is in a tight battle for what's likely the last available place on the Padres' bench.
• All Padres pitchers and catchers who were slated to report by Wednesday have done so, Tingler said, with their first formal workout slated for Thursday.