King to make (brief) return to bullpen for Seoul Series

March 11th, 2024

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Padres vowed to make a full-time starter when they landed him from the Yankees in December.

And, sure, that’s still the plan -- King is the third option in a Padres rotation featuring Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove at the top.

But evidently King’s full-time transition to the rotation isn’t going to start until after the team’s two-game series against the Dodgers in Korea. That’s because he seems likely to make his first Padres appearance out of the bullpen.

On Monday, Darvish and Musgrove were officially tabbed as the probable starters for the Seoul Series. After those two games, the Padres have a seven-day gap before they begin the stateside portion of their schedule.

The way the Padres see it, King is one of their best pitchers and they might as well use him. It helps, of course, that he has nearly five years of experience pitching out of the bullpen in New York.

“He is hungry to compete,” manager Mike Shildt said. “He has the experience to do it, and he’s more than willing and capable. Good chance he’s going to [pitch in relief in Korea].”

King has been perhaps the Padres’ most impressive starter this spring. He didn’t allow a run in either of his two Cactus League outings; both times, he was so efficient that he threw extra pitches in the bullpen afterward. He was similarly dominant in two additional starts in back-field games.

Nonetheless, the Padres’ decision to use Darvish and Musgrove -- the duo that has anchored the staff for three seasons -- in Korea didn’t come as a surprise. Presumably, King will follow them in the rotation when the Padres return to Petco Park at the end of March. But Shildt recently instructed King to be ready for an appearance out of the bullpen in Seoul.

“I was pumped,” King said. “Because I really just want to pitch in that atmosphere. I’m sure it would’ve been a great atmosphere if I started one of those exhibition games. But when the games matter, you want to pitch in the games that matter.”

It’s unclear whether any of the team’s other rotation options might be available to pitch in relief. Currently, Jhony Brito, Randy Vásquez, Matt Waldron, Drew Thorpe and Pedro Avila are competing for the last two starting spots. The Padres will also need starters for their two exhibition games in Korea.

Among that group, Brito is a clear favorite for a roster spot, coming off a dominant spring in which he posted a 2.08 ERA and led the team with 16 Cactus League strikeouts. Like King, he spent part of last season pitching in relief for New York. (He, too, was part of the trade haul the Padres received for Juan Soto.)

“If the manager says that he needs me to come out of the bullpen to throw three or two innings, that’s something I’m prepared to do,” Brito said through interpreter Danny Sanchez.

Marsee to Minors camp
's first big league camp formally came to an end in the Padres’ latest round of roster cuts on Monday. The reigning Arizona Fall League MVP and the team’s No. 12 prospect, Marsee posted a .703 OPS while playing a strong center field.

“Marsee had a really good camp,” Shildt said. “Showing up and competing against Major League competition, he didn’t back down from it, looked like he belonged. Really, with Marsee, he did everything he could’ve possibly done. He’s on a great track to join us at some point and have a long career with us at the big league level.

“The decision for us recently was: Is there going to be everyday time for him? [We] didn’t think there was going to be those at-bats.”

Jackson Merrill, who homered in the Padres' 13-3 win over the Mariners on Monday at Peoria Sports Complex, appears to be the favorite to start in center field. Óscar Mercado and José Azocar remain in the mix as well.

Opening Day nine?
On Monday, the Padres named Darvish their Opening Day starter. Then, they trotted out what just might be their Opening Day lineup behind him:

Obviously that lineup isn’t set in stone, and much can change between now and March 20 in Korea. But whatever the specific order, those are currently the nine favorites to start Game 1 for San Diego.

Naturally, Shildt was pleased with that offense’s 13-run outburst, including four runs in three innings off Mariners big leaguer Logan Gilbert.

“I like the adjustments we made, as the game went, against their starter,” Shildt said. “Gilbert’s got a nice arm, and we made adjustments second time through with him, and I was really, really impressed with that. That’s a really good sign for our offense.”