The way Robbie Erlin has pitched the past couple months, it would be difficult to imagine he was ever injured at all.
The Padres left-hander posted his second straight sharp Arizona Fall League outing Thursday, scattering two hits without any walks while striking out four in 2 2/3 scoreless innings to allow Peoria to snag an early lead and en route to a 3-1 win over Salt River.
Erlin, San Diego's No. 8 prospect, missed about two-and-a-half months in the middle of the season with tendinitis in his left elbow. The recently turned 22-year-old returned in August, making three rehab starts with the Rookie-level Arizona League Padres before finishing out his season with four outings for Double-A San Antonio.
Altogether, he's thrown 31 2/3 innings across nine outings since being cleared to pitch, posting a 2.84 ERA.
"They told me up front how long [the rehab] was going to take, and kind of how it was going to progress. It took a long time, but in hindsight, it was better to knock it out instead of pitching through it and pretending it's not there, then have something serious happen," he said. "I don't even think about my elbow when I go out and throw anymore. It's completely behind me now. I can really just go out and focus on what I need to work on."
Erlin finished his season in San Antonio with a 3-1 record and 2.92 ERA in 11 starts. He struck out 72 while walking just 14 in 52 1/3 frames, building on an eye-popping 2011 in which he put up a 2.99 ERA in 147 1/3 innings while walking only 16 and striking out 154 between Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, Double-A Frisco, and after a trade to San Diego from Texas, with the Missions.
After missing as much time as he did this year, the 2009 third-rounder said getting a chance to tack on some more innings and build his workload in the AFL is an invaluable opportunity. He now has a 1.93 ERA with eight strikeouts and without a walk in 4 2/3 Fall League innings.
"It's absolutely good to get back out here and try and make up for some of the innings I lost," he said. "There's a lot of good players here, you can tell it in their approaches -- they have really good eyes. It's good competition."
On Thursday, Erlin said his secondary pitches felt strongest.
"The offspeed stuff was working, mostly. My fastball command wasn't what it usually is, so I felt I kind of had to go backwards, throw a lot of offspeed pitches in fastball counts," he noted. "[In the AFL] I'm working on my slider still, throwing it to righties. I worked on that today."
Fellow San Diego prospect Kevin Quackenbush locked things down in the ninth, striking out the side while walking one to earn his second save of the AFL season.
Philadelphia's Cody Asche hit a solo homer in the seventh and brought in another run with a sacrifice fly in the ninth to provide for most of Peoria's offense. Cincinnati prospect Didi Gregorius drove in the team's other run.
Andre Rienzo, a White Sox right-hander from Brazil, allowed one unearned run on two hits and a walk while fanning five over four innings for Salt River. Blue Jays prospect Jake Marisnick led the offense with a double and a single.