Thatcher not stressing over debut
Reliever struggles early in first appearance, but limits damage
SAN DIEGO -- A relief pitcher's biggest ally, well, other than the ability to throw strikes immediately, might be having a short memory.
This might explain why left-handed pitcher Joe Thatcher looked at ease on Wednesday in the clubhouse hours before the Padres game against the Houston Astros, working his way through on a crossword puzzle instead of belaboring the events from Tuesday's game.
Thatcher's 2008 debut saw him walk in a run, after he issued a four-pitch walk to Houston leadoff hitter Michael Bourn in the sixth inning in relief of starting pitcher Chris Young.
"That's a reliever's most important job, come in and throw strikes. Obviously, I didn't do that, walking a guy, especially a lefty, on four pitches," Thatcher said. "There's no excuse for that."
What made Thatcher's night much more palatable was the way he worked out of the jam by getting the next hitter, Hunter Pence, to ground out to Kevin Kouzmanoff to end the inning, as the Padres held on for a 2-1 victory.
"I was happy with the way I came back and made a good pitch to Hunter Pence to get us out of that inning and preserve the lead, which is ultimately what you want to do ... no matter how you get it done," Thatcher said.
"It's kind of hard in Spring Training to simulate that kind of intensity, no matter how you try to prepare yourself, get psyched up and get the adrenaline going, it's not the same. It's a whole other level in the regular season."
Thatcher felt like he might have been overthrowing some during the at-bat to Bourn, but he settled down soon enough and was able to run a cut fastball in on the hands of Pence, who is a dangerous hitter in his own right.
"A couple of them weren't very close," Thatcher said of the pitches to Bourn. "Some of it might have been nerves, being out there for the first time of the year, coming in with the bases loaded. But like I said, there's no excuse for walking a guy on four pitches."
Manager Bud Black was encouraged by the way Thatcher worked out of what could have been a potentially messy situation. Black said Thatcher will be used much in the way relievers Cla Meredith, Heath Bell and Trevor Hoffman are used late in games.
"We think Joe is going to fit back there with Cla, Heath and Trev as a guy we're going to go to in those types of games," Black said. "He just didn't execute his pitches to Bourn. We've got no problem with Joe facing a right-handed hitter."
That's because Thatcher showed that he has the ability to get lefties and righties out in his 21-inning stint last season after being recalled from Triple-A Portland. Left-handers hit .200 against Thatcher while right-handers hit just .151, which is unusual against a left-handed pitcher.
Thatcher's ability to use his fastball to get the ball in the hands of right-handed hitters, like he did on Tuesday with Pence, has been and will continue to be paramount to his success.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.