SAN DIEGO -- When right-hander Phil Maton is on the mound, he gives Padres manager Andy Green a vibe similar to that of the All-Star reliever the rookie could soon replace as San Diego's ninth-inning man.Monday's trade with the Royals sent closer Brandon Maurer and setup man Ryan Buchter to
SAN DIEGO -- When right-hander Phil Maton is on the mound, he gives Padres manager Andy Green a vibe similar to that of the All-Star reliever the rookie could soon replace as San Diego's ninth-inning man.
Monday's trade with the Royals sent closer Brandon Maurer and setup man Ryan Buchter to Kansas City, giving Maton an opportunity to pitch in more high-leverage situations. He took advantage of his first shot Thursday, retiring all four batters he faced and striking out the side in the eighth inning of a two-run game.
The trade also moved All-Star left-hander Brad Hand into the closer role. Hand, whose third save in three days Friday gave him a 19-outing scoreless streak, could soon be traded as well, potentially opening the closer's role for Maton.
Maton showed well again in Saturday's 4-2 win over the Pirates, as he tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings with two strikeouts.
"Phil's not scared of anything," Green said. "He's got some of the same Brad Hand demeanor. No situation fazes him. He's going to give you his best stuff."
Maton, 24, didn't allow a run in his first 10 Major League outings. He has a 2.95 ERA, striking out 24 in 21 1/3 innings while posting a 0.85 WHIP.
Maton said he was sad to lose a pair of mentors, but he's excited for his rise up the Padres' bullpen ladder.
"They helped me out a lot," Maton said. "... It's just a matter of doing what I can to help fill that void that Maurer and Buchter left in our bullpen. Guys are going to have to step up, and hopefully, I'm one of them.
"High-leverage baseball, it's what I signed up for."
This is only Maton's second month in the big leagues. He isn't preoccupied with closing games, but simply pitching well enough to stay in San Diego. He knows his role could change further if Hand gets moved, but Maton is content learning from the Padres' veterans, Hand included.
"Just the way he attacks hitters, the way he handles himself on the mound is something I feel everyone should try to emulate," Maton said. "Just goes about it the right way, works hard. Perfect person to try to copy."
Maton served as a closer during his rapid rise through the Minors after San Diego drafted him in 2015, but as a result, he didn't get much experience entering with runners already on base, which Green identified as a role Maton is still learning.
Green said it also has been nice to see Maton use his slider more often recently. In the Minor Leagues, Maton relied on his high-spin fastball. His four-seamer has the 33rd-highest average spin rate in baseball, per Statcast™, allowing him to be effective as a reliever despite throwing only nine of his 205 fastballs above 94 mph.
"Sometimes, the guy that's got that good of a fastball gets overly reliant on it," Green said. "At the big league level, guys hit fastballs. That's just what they do. His willingness to mix in the fastball [and] mix in the slider plays."
Maton has altered his throwing program, putting more emphasis on pregame work than in-game adjustments so his arm is more rested and ready to face Major League batters.
"Closing's a lot of fun, so if that's what they want me to do, I'm happy with it," Maton said, "but if not, I'm just as happy being here and filling whatever role they need me to do."
Nathan Ruiz is a reporter for MLB.com based in San Diego.