Saratoga Central Catholic graduate Tim Stauffer pitches during a San Diego Padres’ home game against Arizona earlier this season. Stauffer owns a 7-9 record in his first full season as a starting pitcher, but his earned run average had been as low as 2.83 before a bad start Aug. 13 against Cincinnati raised it to over 3.50.
Saturday, Aug. 13, was not a good day for Tim Stauffer.
The San Diego Padres pitcher gave up five home runs in three innings of work in a 13-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.
In previous years, that performance might have earned the Saratoga Central Catholic graduate a ticket to Triple A. But this year, it’s only an aberration.
Stauffer has turned out to be one of San Diego’s top pitchers this season. Entering Saturday’s game, Stauffer had a 7-8 record with a 3.06 earned run average. He went through a two-month stretch where his ERA was 1.97 – one of the best in the National League over that time span. At one point this season, he was tied with Cliff Lee for the seventh-best ERA in the league.
“I think it’s being more aggressive in getting strikes this season,” Stauffer said in a phone interview last Friday, one day before his start in Cincinnati.
Stauffer’s record might have been better entering Saturday’s game had his team given him better support. Stauffer had nine no decisions in his previous 24 starts, including two games where he left with the game scoreless after seven innings. His most recent no decision came last Monday in New York when the Padres blew a four-run lead in the last two innings in a 9-8 loss. It was Stauffer’s first start in New York City.
Stauffer’s father, Rick, said that the win-loss record isn’t as big of a concern to his son as all of his other statistics.
“I’m sure he’d like five or six of those losses or no decisions be wins, but I think some of those other stats [ERA, opponents’ batting average, walks and hits per nine innings pitched] are more important to him,” said Rick.
Stauffer’s emergence as one of San Diego’s top starting pitchers came during last year’s pennant chase. From the beginning of September, Stauffer compiled a 3-2 record in seven starts including two key victories over eventual World Series champion San Francisco.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Stauffer. “We were in the thick of [the National League West race], and every game was fun.”
Stauffer’s final start of 2010 was his most challenging. Pitching in front of a raucous San Francisco crowd anticipating their team’s NL West championship-clinching victory, Stauffer limited the Giants to one run on three hits in 6.1 innings of work as San Diego pulled out a 4-2 victory.
“That atmosphere was as close as you can get to the playoffs,” said Stauffer. “It was a lot of fun to go out there and pitch well to get the win.”
That performance capped a 2010 season that began with Stauffer making the Padres’ opening day roster for the first time in his professional baseball career, but as a reliever instead of as a starter. Then, an appendectomy in May shelved Stauffer for more than a month.
“It was just unfortunate about the timing of [the appendectomy], but I got it fixed up and taken care of,” said Stauffer.
Once he was fully healed, Stauffer returned to the bullpen where he re-settled into his role as a middle reliever. That lasted until Sept. 6 when he got to start against the Los Angeles Dodgers in San Diego. Stauffer pitched the first four innings and allowed one run on four hits in a 4-2 Padres’ victory.
“It was a change for him,” Rick said of his son’s bullpen stint. “I think it was sort of a blessing in disguise because that was the first time he started the season with the [Padres]. Coming in from the bullpen helped him get over the mentality of dwelling over a loss because he knew he could come back in the next day. I think it really helped him to round into a major league player.”
Stauffer’s ascension to the top of San Diego’s rotation continued when he was named the opening day starter this season. He responded with a solid six-inning performance against the St. Louis Cardinals where he allowed only two runs in the Padres’ 5-3 victory.
Stauffer’s collection of pitches – including an effective slider – kept National League batters guessing through the next three months. By the middle of July, Stauffer had an ERA of 2.83 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3:1.
Stauffer worked on his arsenal of pitches as early as high school, according to Saratoga Central Catholic coach Phonsey Lambert.
“He had a slider in high school, and he was developing a change-up,” said Lambert. “A lot of the credit has to go to his father [Rick]. He and his father experimented a lot with his pitches.”
“I was just playing around with some pitches and tried some different things [back then],” said Stauffer.
Stauffer was still in command of opposing hitters until he stepped on the mound in New York last Monday. He gave up lead-off home runs to Angel Pagan and Jason Bay in the first two innings, and then he allowed a two-run shot to David Wright as San Diego fell behind 4-1 to the Mets.
Stauffer recovered from those early missteps, though. He retired 15 of the last 17 batters he faced, and he was in line for the victory when the Padres rallied for three runs in the seventh inning and four runs in the top of the eighth to take an 8-4 lead.
“I executed a little better,” said Stauffer. “The mistakes I made early on, they took advantage of.”
“He really settled down and made some nice adjustments, which was good because he could have given up after those early innings,” said Lambert, who attended the game with Stauffer’s family and several members of Saratoga Catholic’s baseball family.
Unfortunately for Stauffer, the Padres’ bullpen couldn’t hold the lead. Set-up man Chad Qualls gave up two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, and closer Heath Bell allowed three runs in the ninth – the last two coming on Lucas Duda’s game-winning single.
“Most of the time, the bullpen gets the job done,” said Rick Stauffer. “It just didn’t work out that way this time.”
Stauffer’s next chance to regain his form is Thurs-day, Aug. 18, when he is scheduled to pitch against the Florida Marlins. And knowing his son, Rick said Tim should have shrugged off his tough start against Cincinnati by then.
“One of the things that I see differently in Tim that I didn’t see a couple of years ago is that he doesn’t hang on a loss,” said Rick. “He feels that he really belongs there and that he can compete at that level.”
One thing is for certain: Tim Stauffer’s days of being bounced between the majors and minors are over. He is now a Major League Baseball pitcher.
“He literally has learned how to pitch. So I think knowing the pitches that he has and knowing his confidence level, I think he can have a long career,” said Rick.