Thatcher eyes Opening Day spot
Padres lefty making most of big league opportunity
PEORIA, Ariz. -- For a guy who was undrafted out of college and started his pro career in an independent league, Joe Thatcher has had quite a quick ascent to the Major Leagues.Thatcher, 26, didn't slow down once he got there, either. He was 2-2 with a 1.29 ERA in 22 games for the Padres last season, making his Major League debut two years and seven days after he was signed by Milwaukee out of the Frontier League. This spring, Thatcher is in contention for a spot on the Opening Day roster, and he's thrown well once again, posting a 4.15 ERA in four appearances entering Friday's action. "Joe's kind of interesting, he's kind of wildly effective in the zone," bench coach Craig Colbert said. "He gets some guys to swing at some balls that aren't strikes, but that's just his stuff. He's looked good to me." Thatcher was dominant at all levels a season ago, going 4-1 with a 1.35 ERA in the Minors and allowing only 13 hits in 21 innings with the Padres. Thatcher walked only six while striking out 16 at the Major League level. Walks are often a bane of situational lefties, who are usually in and out of games within the blink of an eye. "I think the most important thing as a reliever is to throw strikes," Thatcher said. "Walks will kill you, especially as a reliever coming in in tight situations." Thatcher might be under a lot of pressure in fighting for a bullpen job, but he's probably not the most stressed member of his family right now. His sister, Anne, is a senior guard for the Indiana State women's basketball team (14-14), which began the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament on Friday night likely needing to win it to gain an NCAA Tournament berth. Thatcher grew up playing basketball nine months a year, with baseball being "a summer thing," so he follows his sister's games and talks to her frequently. "Growing up, we'd be out there shooting baskets every night, and sometimes my mom would rebound," Thatcher said. "It's kind of a family thing."
Thatcher played baseball for four years at Indiana State, where his father had played, but Thatcher wasn't drafted out of college, where he had solid success as a reliever but was 4-8 with a 5.60 ERA as a senior starter.He pitched in the Frontier League in 2004 and again in 2005, going a combined 6-5 with a 2.40 ERA before Milwaukee snatched him up. Thatcher might be hard pressed to duplicate last season's statistics, but he knows what he can do. "Last year, I got to the point where I could throw a big pitch whenever I needed to," Thatcher said, "no matter what level I was at."
Mark Thoma is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.