Although left-hander Matt Strahm is one of three Padres with at least 15 starts this year, he may be on his way back to the team’s bullpen. Strahm will work as a reliever this weekend, and there is a chance his role change will last beyond the All-Star break and perhaps through the season, according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The 27-year-old Strahm explained to Acee that he considers himself a starter and would like to remain one, but he’d accept a reversion to his previous job. Strahm functioned almost exclusively in relief for the Royals and Padres from 2016-18, during which he picked up just eight starts in 86 appearances. Even though Strahm was quite effective out of San Diego’s bullpen last season, the team took the gamble of turning him into a full-time starter coming into this year. The experiment was going swimmingly through May, at which point Strahm had posted a sparkling 3.21 ERA with 51 strikeouts against 11 walks in 56 innings.
While Strahm carried a stretch of nine straight starts in which he allowed three earned runs or fewer into June 2, his season began unraveling then. Strahm coughed up seven earned runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Marlins, and the Padres put him on the injured list with a rib strain shortly thereafter.
Although Strahm returned after spending the minimum time on the IL, his woes have intensified since. Including his performance against Miami, Strahm has turned in five starts in a row of giving up between four and seven earned runs. He now owns a bloated 5.42 ERA with a similarly unpalatable 5.21 FIP over 79 2/3 frames this season, despite having notched 8.7 K/9 against 1.92 BB/9. Most of Strahm’s problems have come versus same-handed hitters, whom he has surprisingly had much more trouble against than righties throughout his career. Those struggles have been even more pronounced this year, though, as lefties have pulverized Strahm for a .430 weighted on-base average. For all intents and purposes, Strahm has turned every lefty swinger into Charlie Blackmon (.425 wOBA).
A drop in velocity surely hasn’t helped matters for Strahm, who has seen all of his pitches lose steam since 2018. He averaged around 94 mph on his fastball last year, but it’s down to roughly 91 this season. Less velocity has helped lead to more home runs off Strahm for opposing hitters. Just under 18 percent of fly balls have left the yard against Strahm, which is especially alarming for someone whose groundball rate (33.1 percent) ranks near the absolute bottom of the majors.
Now, if the Padres do pull Strahm from their rotation for good, it’s unclear which quintet would comprise their rotation. The team just got Dinelson Lamet back from Tommy John surgery, while Chris Paddack, Joey Lucchesi, Eric Lauer have done well across a combined 46 starts. The Friars also have Logan Allen, Cal Quantrill and Nick Margevicius in the mix, and there’s at least some chance they’ll add another starter in advance of the July 31 trade deadline. Despite a 43-45 record, the Padres are just three games back of a wild-card spot, which could put them in position to buy in the right situation (perhaps one that would deliver a controllable starter to San Diego). Looking beyond the deadline, there’s a chance recovering Tommy John patient Garrett Richards will come back in September.
In shifting Strahm back to his previous role, the Padres would hope he’d rekindle last year’s magic and give them the lights-out lefty reliever they’ve lacked this season. With Jose Castillo and Aaron Loup having missed most or all of the season, the Padres’ lone usable lefty option has been Robbie Erlin. He hasn’t been great, though, whereas Strahm’s just a year removed from pitching to a 2.25 ERA (albeit with a far less formidable 3.70 FIP) with 9.56 K/9 against 3.38 BB/9 in 48 relief innings.