Ryan Buchter emerged as a steady late-inning arm for the Padres last season, but he was sent down to Triple-A El Paso in August after his effectiveness waned with the rapid reduction of his spin rate over a small stretch of outings. He finished the season on a high note, including nine innings in September with an .071 batting average against, and the Padres never revealed a specific injury as the cause for his brief struggles. Overall, he led all San Diego relievers in strikeout rate (31.6 percent) and batting average against (.159), and the biggest red flag in his skill set is an elevated walk rate (12.6 percent). Buchter works with a 92-93 mph fastball, while mixing in occasional sliders and cutters, and his extreme flyball tendencies profile well in more cavernous ballparks, though it should be noted that he had a better ERA on the road (2.17) than he did at home (3.44) in 2016. Most likely, he'll serve as part of the bridge to the ninth inning in 2017.
Butcher was one of four pitchers manager Andy Green said were locks for the back end of his Opening Day bullpen. Butcher was the Padres' best southpaw out of the pen last season, posting a 2.86 ERA and an 11.1 K/9 while collecting 20 holds. He should serve a similar role this season as the team's left-handed setup man and be a decent source of holds in leagues that count them.
Buchter was recalled from Triple-A El Paso on Thursday. The veteran lefty had been extremely effective in the big league prior to a mid-August run of outings that saw his spin rate noticeably dip, and he was then sent down to Triple-A. He only pitched one inning in 10 days with El Paso, so he was probably prescribed some rest with the hope that his stuff would bounce back. If he can regain his form, he could be used in the seventh and eighth inning in September, but he is unlikely to be called upon in any save situations.
Buchter was optioned to Triple-A El Paso on Saturday. The team maintains that Buchter is not injured, but his spin rate had dipped noticeably over the past couple games, and so had his effectiveness. He gave up three runs over 1.1 innings (20.25 ERA) in his last two appearances after giving up 15 runs in the previous 52.3 innings (2.56 ERA). Keith Hessler was recalled to take Buchter's spot in the big league bullpen.
Buchter threw a perfect inning against the Giants on Sunday en route to his 15th hold of the season. The lefty has now turned in seven straight scoreless appearances, with just two hits allowed and seven strikeouts over that span, since his five-run blowup on June 29 (the day before the team traded Fernando Rodney). Brandon Maurer nailed down the win Sunday and is 3-for-3 in save chances since taking over in the ninth inning. Buchter still has appeal as a closer-in-waiting but will probably need Maurer to slip up or get traded.
Buchter will be next in line for save chances behind Brandon Maurer in San Diego, MLB.com reports. Manager Andy Green named Buchter the Padres' primary setup man in early June following three poor outings from Maurer (nine earned runs in 1.1 innings), seemingly putting him in line for save chances behind Fernando Rodney. However, in an example of disastrous timing, Buchter was blown up for five runs in an appearance the day before Rodney was traded to Miami. Maurer has settled down since the rough stretch and will get the first look in the closer role, but the lefty Buchter should keep the seat warm and still makes for a viable hold in many leagues.