Lauer, Lucchesi enter '19 as Friars' reliable arms

Padres' starting rotation relatively unknown beyond young left-handers

February 14th, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- What a difference a year makes.

In February 2018, and reported to big league camp for the first time as wide-eyed prospects with almost no chance of making the Padres' Opening Day roster. Neither did, but it wasn't long before they arrived in San Diego. Lucchesi was an injury replacement on the second day of the season, and Lauer had joined the club by mid-April.

"That happened quick," Padres catcher Austin Hedges said. "I had four big league camps before I made the team. Your first camp, you're a little nervous, you're trying to figure out if you belong -- normal human emotions. It's weird, because it feels like they've already been around for a while."

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Believe it or not, it's been less than 12 months since Lucchesi and Lauer became the first two pitchers from the 2016 Draft class to reach the big leagues. This spring, among the Padres' group of about 10 rotation candidates, they're probably the only two pitchers with a firm grip on their place in the starting five.

Thursday marked the first formal workout for pitchers and catchers this spring, and manager Andy Green noted, "They're the guys at the top of the list that we expect to end up in the rotation."

In some ways, the ascension of Lauer and Lucchesi comes by default. and are gone, and the Padres haven't added a proven big league starter (other than , who could miss the entire season due to Tommy John surgery).

"When I look at Spring Training last year, it definitely feels like it was a quick transition," Lauer said. "I went from coming in, just hoping to survive, to coming in and trying to be at the head of the rotation."

Both left-handers showed flashes of very good stuff last season, but their numbers weren't all that impressive. Lucchesi made 26 starts and posted a 4.08 ERA, while Lauer started 23 times with a 4.34 ERA. Both need to do much better if they're truly going anchor the Padres' rotation.

"They both were really, really good rookies in that they listened, they learned and they worked," Hedges said. "They weren't just satisfied that they made the big leagues. They both want to be great."

There's another side effect of the southpaw pair's success last season. The Padres' quiet offseason leaves them with a number of Minor League starters fighting for big league jobs.

"There's some young guys in camp that don't have a lot of Minor League seasoning," Green said. "[Lucchesi and Lauer] kind of prove that you can hold your own in the big leagues ... and it gives us some confidence with a young group of guys."

Chris Paddack? Logan Allen? ? All three find themselves in the mix for places on the Opening Day roster, despite limited experience at the upper levels of the Minors.

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"I'm not sure who it's going to be, but we're quite certain it's going to be somebody that steps up and earns that opportunity, the way Joey did last year," Green said.

For Lucchesi and Lauer, year two presents a fresh set of challenges. To their credit, they've embraced the areas in which they need to grow.

Lucchesi added a cutter this offseason, and he's downright thrilled about the pitch. It should complement the his fastball-curveball mix as a weapon to keep right-handed hitters off-balance.

Lauer, meanwhile, says he's honed his slider so it has more depth. The goal is to make it more of a putaway pitch and distinguish it further from his cutter -- which often took a similar shape.

Clearly, neither is content to rest on their 2018 breakthrough to the Majors.

"I need to be able to show I can progress and be that top-tier kind of pitcher," Lauer said.

Added Lucchesi: "I always come in feeling like I've got to prove myself."