They've been overworked and underrated, yet the Padres bullpen continues to produce.
The group has been among the best in baseball so far this season. Heading into Wednesday’s game, the bullpen was 6-1 with a league-leading 1.87 ERA. Their .201 batting average against is second only to San Francisco. They’ve held their opposition scoreless in 19 of the last 26 games, boasting a 1.40 ERA in that span.
“They’ve done a good job,” manager Bud Black said. “They’ve pitched extremely well. They’ve pulled their weight for sure.”
You know about closer Huston Street, who has been lights out since joining the club in 2012, converting 66 of 69 saves and all 10 chances this season. And you've probably gotten to know Joaquin Benoit, the former Tigers closer who came in as a free agent and has owned the eighth inning.
But what about the rest of the crew that gets the team to those big names?
The five other regular members of the bullpen have put up a paltry 1.95 ERA on the season through 74 innings. Alex Torres and Dale Thayer haven't given up a run in over a month.
Until Nick Vincent allowed two Royals runs in the 11th inning on Tuesday, the group -- which also includes Donn Roach and Tim Stauffer -- hadn't taken a loss all season. This despite ranking in the top 10 in innings pitched, including 27 2/3 frames over the last eight games.
“We've got very well-defined roles,” Street said. “But within that, guys who can satisfy a means to an end. These guys have all pitched really well. They're all finding their stride.”
They all have their own stories, and seem to relish their niche within the bullpen hierarchy.
Take guys like Thayer and Torres, who bounced around the minor leagues before finding secure spots on big league teams.
Thayer toiled in the minors for six years before making his major league debut with Tampa Bay in 2009. He didn’t win his first major league game until coming to the Padres in 2012. Now he finds himself in the position of being the shutdown guy, leading the team with a miniscule 0.53 ERA.
He also boasts what might be the organization’s most imposing facial hair since Goose Gossage (see above).
“Benoit and Street have a lot of experience,” he said of the alpha dogs in the ‘pen. “I’m not gonna take over their spot, so I don’t really worry about (my role).”
Then there are guys like Stauffer and Roach, who have spent at least parts of their careers as starters. Stauffer has made 70 starts over his nine-year career – all with the Padres. Roach started 44 games over the past two seasons in the minors and was even talked about as a potential fifth starter before the season began.
“It’s still the same,” he said of coming out of the bullpen. “You have to get people out regardless. If you give up five or six runs, you’re not going to win games anyway.”
The very nature of the bullpen is pulling together a group of people others have deemed not ready – or not able – to take the big stage. Otherwise, they would be the starters. The key is not just who, but when.
“It takes a while for a team to trust you,” Street said. “And at this level you have to trust yourself. Sometimes it's just the timing of your career.”
Black reiterated the point of timing, adding that more than any other position, guys eventually “find their path” in the bullpen.
“They do it their own way,” he said. “As a group, they have a lot of confidence going on and they make their pitches.”