Once an electric starter, Lamet could head to 'pen

March 26th, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- There was a time when was one of the most fearsome starting pitchers in baseball, a certifiable ace atop the Padres' starting rotation.

That time did not last nearly long enough for the Padres' (or Lamet's) liking, but it's still worth appreciating Lamet’s level of dominance. His 2.09 ERA during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season is the lowest qualifying mark in franchise history. His 31% strikeout rate is by far the highest for any Padres pitcher with at least 50 career starts.

It's worth remembering all that, of course, because Lamet is very much still a Padre. And, potentially, very capable of reaching that level of dominance -- even if there's a chance it comes in a different setting this year.

The Padres have yet to settle on a role for Lamet this spring, and manager Bob Melvin left open the possibility that Lamet could start again. But with a deep group of rotation options acquitting themselves quite well, Lamet seems ticketed for a spot in the bullpen. To his credit, Lamet is open to all of it.

"Whether it's starter or bullpen, my goal is always just to get those three outs," said Lamet, who pitched one inning and allowed a wind-aided homer while striking out two in the Padres' 2-2 tie with the Cubs on Saturday. "It really doesn't matter. My goal is just to get outs, and that's what I'm thinking all the time."

Lamet missed the 2018 season due to Tommy John surgery. He starred late in '19 and throughout '20, but he suffered a UCL sprain in his right elbow during his final start of the latter season and missed the playoffs. Four times last year, Lamet landed on the injured list with elbow-related trouble.

Then came the move to the bullpen. Lamet's pitch mix was always well suited for the role. Generally speaking, he only throws two pitches: a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s and a slider that serves as one of the game's elite put-away offerings.

More importantly, however, a move to the bullpen might allow the Padres to get the most out of Lamet's electric arm, because it might help keep him on the mound.

"In shorter stints, typically, you don't have to pace yourself," said Melvin. "In the past, maybe with the injury, you try to be careful as far as stretching him out. If it was a one-inning type bullpen stint, he probably knows exactly when he's coming in. You can monitor him and see how he is from day to day, and it might take a little stress off."

The Padres, of course, are still searching for a closer, and many in the organization feel Lamet's stuff would play nicely in that role. But he's not going to be handed that job out of camp. A life-long starter, Lamet still needs to acclimate to a short-burst relief role. He only pitched once on back-to-back days last season. The Padres don't want to push him too regularly.

As such, Lamet might be asked to cover an inning here and there as a high-octane set-up man early in the season. If all goes well, health-wise, his workload could increase.

"My mentality has always been to help the team," Lamet said. "Whatever the team wants, whatever the manager needs me to do, that's what I'm going to be doing. And that's all I'm preparing for, just to help the team win, whatever they need."

Voit launches first Padres homer
Less than a week into his Padres tenure, is doing precisely what the Padres acquired him to do.

The righty-hitting slugger crushed his first spring homer on Saturday, a laser-beam high up the left-field berm at the Peoria Sports Complex. The Padres acquired Voit, the Major League home run king in 2020, from the Yankees last weekend in exchange for pitching prospect Justin Lange.

Voit tacked on a single a couple of innings later and finished his day hitting 2-for-3. He's batting .300 with a 1.117 OPS through his first four games.

Snell faces hitters
 faced hitters on a back field at Peoria Sports Complex on Saturday, marking the first time he's pitched in a live setting this spring. The left-hander faced eight hitters across two innings, mixing all four of his pitches and inducing a handful of whiffs.

Snell, who traditionally builds slowly for the season, will likely be limited in his first turn or two through the rotation. He's expected to make his Cactus League debut next week, giving him two scheduled exhibition outings before the season begins.

"I'm where I need to be,” Snell said. “Feel good, feel healthy.”