Cutter may be Pomeranz's key to rotation spot

March 15th, 2016

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Drew Pomeranz was simply going through his offseason routine, playing catch with former Minor League teammate Travis Higgs. The circumstances were the same as any other throwing session -- only this time, Pomeranz noticed something strange about Higgs' tosses: They had some serious late movement.

"I just asked, 'What was that?'" Pomeranz said. "He showed me the grip and where to apply the pressure."

What that was is a cutter that could be the key to Pomeranz earning a spot in the Padres' rotation out of camp. For much of his career, the left-hander has been a two-pitch pitcher, showcasing a fastball-curveball mix but shying away from the changeup.

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Of course, having three reliable pitches is practically a necessity for any starting pitcher. And both Pomeranz and the club believe his cutter could become that third weapon.

"His fastball plays up in the zone very well," Padrdes manager Andy Green said. "He can blow it by hitters any time. And with the shape of his curveball -- starting high in the zone -- it's a nice mix."

Green then moved to the cutter, which he initially couldn't pick up from his vantage point up the line. Instead, Green had to watch the pitch on film to see its effect.

The movement, Green said, was so late, it was almost indecipherable right away. For a cutter -- which, by design, deceives hitters at the last possible moment -- that's undoubtedly a positive. Green then dropped a lofty comparison, citing his past battles with Al Leiter.

"I thought I was going to hit the ball on the barrell every single time," Green said. "And then I was blowing up my bat."

The Padres have two open rotation spots, and Pomeranz said he wanted a chance to win one of them. The club has obliged. Even though he hasn't started a game this spring, the 27-year-old former first-round pick is being stretched out, innings-wise.

Pomeranz, who has allowed two runs on three hits in 4 2/3 innings, came to the Padres in the deal that sent Yonder Alonso and Marc Rzepczynski to Oakland. If Pomeranz doesn't make the rotation, he's got a spot in the Padres' bullpen, where he spent parts of last season with the A's -- who constantly tinkered with his role.

"I just never knew what to expect there, so I just stayed in ready position for everything," Pomeranz said. "... I literally did everything last year. So I kind of have a little taste of what it takes to get everything accomplished."

Bullpen battle shaping up

Fernando Rodney and Carlos Villanueva are the only guarantees for the Padres' bullpen, Green said Tuesday, adding that Kevin Quackenbush and Nick Vincent also have an inside track. That leaves either two or three spots available, depending on whether Pomeranz wins a rotation spot.

Six or seven pitchers are competing for those final jobs, including veterans Matt Thornton and Casey Janssen, Jon Edwards and Rule 5 Draft picks Josh Martin and Blake Smith.

"There's opportunity there," Green said. "... It's going to play out all the way down to the end."