Despaigne making the most of his rotation stint
SAN DIEGO -- Shortly after the Padres broke camp in Arizona, and before the regular season, San Diego manager Bud Black called Odrisamer Despaigne into his office to inform him he wouldn't be the team's fifth starter.
"He took it fine. He's a competitor," Black recalled. "We explained it to him that this is a long season, and we're going to need contributions from everybody at some point along the way."
That day came a lot sooner than any expected. Four days into the regular season, the team turned to Despaigne to take the place of pitcher Ian Kennedy, who landed on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring.
The early returns for Despaigne -- much like many of his eight starts at Petco Park a year ago -- are very good, especially on Tuesday when he limited the D-backs to one run in seven innings as the Padres beat Arizona, 5-1.
Add that with the 14 consecutive batters he retired while filling in for Kennedy last week, and Despaigne has allowed one run in 11 2/3 innings in 2015 -- lowering his career ERA at Petco Park to a scant 1.66 in 65 2/3 frames.
"The good games that he's thrown sort of mirrored that one," said Black, more or less echoing the sentiments he had a year ago watching Despaigne pitch at home. "That was a mix of pitches from a variety of arm angles. Efficient, around the plate, deceptive, doesn't melt."
After losing the battle for the fifth starter job to Brandon Morrow, Despaigne was designated as the team's long reliever. He threw 84 pitches on Tuesday and could probably push into the 90s the next time out next Tuesday in Colorado, which could be his last start before Kennedy returns from the disabled list.
"Obviously, I would prefer to start, but I'm a pitcher, and I love to pitch," Despaigne said through an interpreter. "That's what I'm going to do whenever the team calls on me. That's what I'm here to do."
Catcher Derek Norris, who got several chances to work with Despaigne in Spring Training and again last week, got his first real extended look at the Cuban defector and liked what he saw -- though he wasn't always sure what was coming and where.
"He's someone who is very difficult to pick up angles with," Norris said. "With hitting, you try to pick up where that arm angle is going to be. For him, he's always changing arm angles. Sometimes, I don't think he knows what he's doing before he's doing it. He does whatever. He's funky, but in a great way."
To be sure, Despaigne made for some uncomfortable at-bats for D-backs hitters.
"He's throwing a lot of strikes. He pitched backwards a lot, so that makes it extra tough," said D-backs right fielder Mark Trumbo. "Do you want to offer at that first pitch offspeed and make a soft out? It's a gamble. I think any team would have a tough time tonight."