Dale Thayer fills in nicely for Street
Right-hander stepped into closer role, picked up five saves
Dale Thayer has all the requirements of a quality closer, equipped with a nasty slider, a fastball that touches the mid-90s and a fierce Fu Manchu mustache that makes him look a little frightening.
The San Diego bullpen was once ruled by Trevor Hoffman, who posted most of his 601 saves for the Padres. Then came Heath Bell, who was a quality closer for San Diego for three seasons before leaving last winter for the Marlins. The Padres replaced him with Huston Street, but he wound up on the disabled list.
Waiting in the wings was Thayer, who signed a Minor League contract last December and got recalled from Triple-A Tucson at the end of April when Micah Owings joined the expanding Padres' disabled list. He stepped right into the closer role and did not allow a run in his first 10 appearances.
But baseball is a game of failure and Thayer has experienced that side, too, this season. Like all relievers, he shrugs off the bad outings and comes back the next day. This season started too well to let a couple of hiccups interfere.
Thayer's strong start was enabled by an effective Spring Training and the opportunity provided by the injuries.
"It's more confidence than anything else," he said. "I had a good spring, and I brought it up here with me."
Thayer has bounced around a bit. Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Padres in 2002, he was traded to Tampa Bay in 2006 and reached the Majors after six Minor League seasons for a couple of brief looks with the Rays. Released by Tampa, he signed with the Mets, and after a spotty 2011, he was released again. He then signed again with San Diego.
Thayer's big league credentials weren't great, with an 0-3 record and bloated 5.88 ERA in 23 appearances with Tampa Bay and New York. But it was a low-risk signing for the Padres.
"I was born in California," he said. "I live in California. I had pitched on the East Coast my entire career, and I wanted to come home and try the West Coast."
The Padres fit the profile, and Thayer came to their camp with an idea.
"I didn't expect to make the team out of camp. I thought I'd be in Triple-A," he said. "But I wanted to impress them. I wanted them to think about me."
At Tucson, the 30-year-old right-hander was perfect in 8 1/3 innings with five strikeouts and held opponents to an .074 batting average. So when Owings went down, Thayer got the call. He had some impressive Minor League seasons out of the bullpen, including 21 saves at Triple-A Buffalo last season.
Thayer's resume included 174 saves, 173 in the Minors. He had just one career Major League save, a three-inning effort in his debut with Tampa Bay in 2009. With the Padres, he converted his first five opportunities, one inning at a time, and his 10-game log was impressive: eight hits, 10 strikeouts and, most importantly, no runs.
Thayer relishes the tight spots closers routinely face.
"I've always been a reliever," he said. "I never wanted to start. I like being able to pitch every day, to be out there at the end of games. It's fun, especially in those situations. I expect myself to pitch a scoreless inning."
He did that the first 10 times he came into games this season. But he knew that wouldn't last.
"An 0.00 ERA?" he said. "It's unreasonable, but you want to get as many outs as possible."
Especially the last three of the game.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.