Ryan Weathers Steps Up To Bolster Padres Pitching Staff
LOS ANGELES—When the Padres drafted Ryan Weathers with the seventh overall pick in 2018, they did so not only because of his gifted left arm, but because of his uncanny composure and maturity on the mound. The son of longtime reliever David Weathers, Ryan was the rare teenager who was never fazed and seemed to handle any challenge thrown in front of him.
Very quickly, he proved the Padres’ assessment correct. The Padres sent him to Low-A Fort Wayne less than two months after he graduated high school, and he handled full-season hitters like a seasoned veteran. The Padres challenged him to get in better shape after a disappointing first full season in 2019, and he came back throwing 4-5 mph harder in summer camp. The Padres brought him up from the alternate training site to make his major league debut in the postseason last year against baseball’s highest-scoring offense, and he tossed 1.1 innings of scoreless relief despite never having pitched above Low-A.
Now, with injuries hitting the Padres hard, the team has made a big ask of Weathers once again: move into the starting rotation, and pitch to the level required of a team with World Series aspirations.
Like every other challenge thrown in front of him, Weathers is handling it with aplomb.
Weathers pitched 5.2 scoreless innings with one hit allowed to outduel Walker Buehler and lead the Padres to a 3-2 win over the Dodgers on Thursday. Facing baseball’s best team on the road in just his second career start, the 21-year-old allowed only a third-inning single to Buehler, walked one and struck out six. He retired the final 11 batters he faced and departed with a 2-0 lead.
“There's always some nerves. I feel like you if don't have any nerves going into a game like that then you're not human,” said Weathers, the No. 77 prospect on the BA Top 100. “I had nerves going into the game but just figured out how to combat it and keep it under control and then control the adrenaline. Just go out there and throw strikes and see what happens.”
Weathers’ performance was badly needed with the Padres’ bullpen running on fumes. The Padres used seven relievers against the Brewers on Wednesday after Dinelson Lamet exited after two innings with forearm tightness. Their bullpen entered the day having thrown 87.2 innings this season, most in the majors.
Weathers had never pitched more than 3.2 innings, which he accomplished last week in his first career start. But the Padres No. 6 prospect understood the situation, and locked in. He threw 56 of his 89 pitches for strikes and faced only three batters over the minimum. He allowed the leadoff hitter to reach in the first, second and third innings, but each time promptly retired the following three batters to escape unscathed.
After allowing Buehler’s leadoff single in the third, he didn’t allow another baserunner the rest of the night.
“He's not overwhelmed by anything,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “He's got a slow heartbeat and you wouldn't realize this is one of the first starts he's ever made. He looks like he's been doing it for years. He looks under control and he's confident, and the guys have a lot of confidence in him.”
Through circumstances beyond his control, Weathers has suddenly become one of the keys to the Padres’ season.
Expected to spend most of the year as a long man and rotation depth option, Weathers was thrust into the starting rotation last week when Adrian Morejon suffered an elbow injury that ultimately required Tommy John surgery. Lamet, who missed the playoffs last year with an elbow injury and had a platelet-rich plasma injection in the offseason, is a question mark after leaving his first start after 29 pitches. Righthander Michel Baez, another expected depth option, had Tommy John surgery earlier in the spring, and Mike Clevinger remains out for the year after having Tommy John surgery in the offseason. Top prospect MacKenzie Gore, the lone other healthy rotation option, struggled with his delivery and command at the alternate training site last year and was inconsistent at best during spring training, solidifying the notion he needs more time in the minors.
Even if Lamet returns healthy, Weathers is now the Padres No. 5 starter without many fallback options behind him.
So far, he’s done everything possible to instill confidence in his team that he can handle it. He’s thrown 9.1 scoreless innings over his first two starts, both against the Dodgers.
“It's incredible,” second baseman Jake Cronenworth said. “Personally I didn't really know if he was going to be a starter or in the bullpen coming out of spring training and he's kind of filled in that starter role and he's been absolutely unbelievable. Working super quick, keeping us in the game, throwing strikes, keeping guys off balance. What he did tonight was awesome.”
For the Padres to achieve their goal of ending the Dodgers’ run of eight straight division titles, they can’t afford to have a weak spot anywhere on their roster, especially at the back of their rotation. With the injuries the team has suffered, that means Weathers is going to have to consistently perform every fifth day against major league hitters despite never having started a game above Low-A entering this season.
That might seem like a Herculean task, and it is. But Weathers, again and again, keeps showing he’s ready to meet whatever challenge is put in front of him.
“I knew coming into the season my role was various roles,” Weathers said. “Whatever they need me to fill. However we need to win games is what I have to do, and as long as we win, I'm a happy person.”