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For Erlin, it's 'pretty cool' to be back

Left-hander throws 3 2/3 quality innings in first Major League action in 2 years
MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- Robbie Erlin waited nearly two years to get back on the Petco Park mound. He did everything he could to made his return count.

The 27-year-old southpaw entered in relief of Luis Perdomo in the Padres' 7-3 loss to Milwaukee on Saturday. He pitched 3 2/3 innings, allowing two runs in his first appearance since April 2016. Erlin, who underwent Tommy John surgery the following month, held the Brewers scoreless in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, before tiring a bit in the eighth.

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SAN DIEGO -- Robbie Erlin waited nearly two years to get back on the Petco Park mound. He did everything he could to made his return count.

The 27-year-old southpaw entered in relief of Luis Perdomo in the Padres' 7-3 loss to Milwaukee on Saturday. He pitched 3 2/3 innings, allowing two runs in his first appearance since April 2016. Erlin, who underwent Tommy John surgery the following month, held the Brewers scoreless in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, before tiring a bit in the eighth.

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"You can't really mimic it anywhere else," Erlin said of the big league stage. "It's pretty cool. I tried my best to breathe through it and slow the game down."

Added pitching coach Darren Balsley: "It was awesome. I've been looking forward to it for a while. Not as much as he has, because he's the one who put in all the hard work. But it's a proud moment, to see a guy who's put so much into being a Padre, battling through what he's battled through, having a few setbacks, and he never really got down about it or pouted."

Erlin fully recovered from his surgery toward the end of the 2017 season, but the Padres opted to take his recovery process slowly. Instead of a big league return, he pitched a couple of games in instructional ball in Arizona.

Then Erlin was shut down for the offseason, allowing him to treat this past winter as though it were any other. He was a candidate for a rotation spot this spring, but ultimately fell to the bullpen during the final week of camp. That was due, in part, to the recovery process.

"You're not going to run him out there for 200 innings this year, so putting him in that long relief role enables us to control his innings early on," said Padres manager Andy Green. "If we think he's ready to start at some point in time, and we think it's best for us as a club, then we'll look at him that way."

That time might come sooner rather than later. Perdomo was roughed up for five runs over his four innings, and the club has expressed some frustration that he hasn't taken a step forward since his rookie season in 2016.

It's likely Perdomo gets another start, but if he falters, Erlin is a candidate to replace him in the rotation. For now, Erlin is merely content to be pitching on a big league mound. It's been a while, after all.

"I just want to be ready when my name's called," Erlin said. "That's the job. I want to stay as sharp as I can for whenever that phone rings."

In parts of four seasons with the Padres from 2013-16, Erlin posted a 4.54 ERA, though he never appeared in more than 13 games because of injuries and inconsistency. Since his first callup five years ago, the Padres have believed he could become an important part of their rotation.

They still believe it.

"Sometimes all the hard work, it just makes you stronger, knowing how hard you've worked coming back," Balsley said. "It's never easy to perform in the big leagues, but it gives you a little bit of an edge. With the low pulse rate he has anyway and the professionalism he shows every day -- it wasn't surprising at all."

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

San Diego Padres, Robbie Erlin