Tucson Padres: First place is nice, but top goal is serving San Diego

2013-06-10T00:00:00Z Tucson Padres: First place is nice, but top goal is serving San DiegoDaniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 10, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Tucson Padres manager Pat Murphy has a line he says so often, it's a wonder it's not his automated greeting on his iPhone.

"There's only one W that matters and that's in San Diego," Murphy says any chance he gets.

It's a catchy line, no doubt. Its sincerity has been tested over the past 10 days.

Twice in June, Tucson has lost its starting pitcher the day of the game because he's been needed in San Diego - a tough spot for a Triple-A team trying to stay at or near the top of the standings.

It first happened on June 1 when the scheduled starter, Robbie Erlin, was summoned to the big leagues after San Diego starter Clayton Richard pitched the night before in an 18-inning game. Instead of flying with Tucson to Reno, Erlin instead boarded a morning flight for San Diego and started for the major league club.

Tucson started Anthony Bass, who lasted four innings and had to piece together a bullpen effort in an 8-6 win.

Then on Saturday, Burch Smith, the owner of a 100-mph fastball, was recalled to San Diego for an extra arm in the bullpen. He was set to start Tucson's game against Sacramento, but instead, the Padres organization promoted Matt Branham, a reliever from High-A Lake Elsinore, who had a 6.34 ERA in 18 appearances.

Branham pitched just three innings, gave up five runs and Tucson lost 10-5.

"It hurts a little bit, but that's just a moment and you get your ego out of there and think about what is best for the organization," Murphy said. "There are a lot more reasons why things are done than the one you are seeing. You're just seeing it from the Tucson Padres' angle. You have to see it from the big league club, the Tucson Padres, the Padres minor league system and the best interest in the kid and where he is at in his career.

"There are so many factors and I can't see them all."

Losing Erlin and Smith has hardly been the only way Tucson's pitching staff has been altered by San Diego. Six of Tucson's 13 active pitchers are on San Diego's 40-man roster, and five of them have already been back and forth to the big leagues at least once. Promotions almost always leave the Tucson pitching staff shorthanded because the player being demoted rarely reports as quickly as the player being promoted.

The results are the Branhams of the world.

"I sit back there and I'm like, 'Oh, man, I just lost another pitcher,' " pitching coach Bronswell Patrick said. "But then you just have to make the adjustment and piece things together to get by for the game. It's a tough situation, but it's not uncommon and we still have to find a way to compete."

For a team that had been at the bottom of the PCL standings since it moved here, Tucson has found a way to compete and inject some winning baseball into Kino Stadium.

The team returned from a four-game road series at Reno at 33-26 and tied for first place with Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League's Pacific Southern Division.

The Padres and River Cats completed a four-game series at Kino, with Tucson losing three of four after salvaging a 4-2 win Sunday over Sacramento.

Murphy hoped his team would play inspired baseball at home against its main division competitor. Instead a series loss has Tucson fighting from behind again.

But as Murphy will remind you, a win at Kino Stadium isn't as important as a win at Petco Park in San Diego.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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