The Morning Report
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Darren Balsley is considered in baseball to be a mad scientist of sorts. It seems that every year, the Padres pitching coach has himself at least one new reclamation project.
Last year, Balsley helped turn Eric Stults from journeyman pitcher who was joining his fourth different team in four seasons into the ace of the Padres’ staff, posting an 8-3 record with a 2.92 ERA.
Stults wasn’t Balsley’s only project last year either: 34-year-old Jason Marquis was seemingly out of chances in the MLB. He had been released by three different teams in the last year, going 2-5 with an ERA 8.75 in his 10 previous starts, before landing in San Diego. After the Padres pitching coach got done with him, Marquis posted a 9-5 record and a 4.05 ERA this season before being put on the Disabled List with an elbow injury.
In 2011, Balsley worked with Dustin Moseley, who had spent five years in the majors with the Angels and Yankees. After never having posted an ERA lower than 4.30 or a WHIP (walks/hits per innings pitched) lower than 1.348, Moseley posted personal bests for both in San Diego. He finished the season with an ERA of 3.30 and a WHIP of 1.275.
No matter the situation, the mad scientist seems to know how to turn anyone into a successful MLB pitcher.
When the Padres traded Andy Parrino and Andrew Werner for Tyson Ross this past off-season, sending two relatively unimpressive prospects to the Oakland Athletics, many assumed it was a move made for pitching depth and to help the progress of Joe Ross, Tyson’s 20-year-old brother and a high draft pick who is making his way through the Padres’ minor league system.
When Tyson won the job as the fifth starter in the 2013 Padres pitching rotation, most attributed it more to the injuries of Casey Kelly than to anything special Ross had done in spring training. Fans knew that Balsley had a history of helping veterans find the magic that had once made them great, but few expected that he would take a failed prospect and turn him into a dominant pitcher.
Tyson Ross’s MLB career could best be described as a roller coaster. In 2010, Ross was called up from the Athletics’ AA affiliate to work as a reliever for the MLB team. He flashed signs of great potential, but was mostly unimpressive. In 2011, Ross worked his way through the minor league system once again before the A’s called on him to be a starter. Tyson finished the season 3-3 with an ERA of 2.75 and looked to be a lock for the Oakland starting rotation.
It all fell apartin 2012. Tyson Ross bounced back and forth between AAA, where he was fantastic, and MLB, where he posted a 2-11 record and a 6.50 ERA for the eventual AL West champion Oakland A’s. By the end of the season, he had been sent back to the bullpen and did not pitch at all in the playoffs. When the Padres called, offering two failed prospects for Tyson Ross, Oakland General Manager Billy Beane decided that Ross would not live up to his potential.
Ross’s first three starts with the Padres didn’t do much to build confidence. He gave up six runs in 14 innings before injuring his left shoulder swinging a bat on April 17. When he returned to the team on May 11, Ross had once again been sent back to the bullpen. But this time it was to keep him from having to swing a bat, something that starting pitchers in the National League have to do regularly but relievers can usually avoid.
During two months of solid work out of the bullpen, fans began to see the work being put in by Tyson Ross and Balsley. Many of Ross’s pitches had more movement, and he seemed to be throwing the ball harder than he had as the early season starter. In mid-July, injuries to San Diego’s other starters built up and the team felt Ross was healthy enough to return to the starting rotation. It was time for everyone to see whether Ross was good enough to be a starting pitcher in the majors.
Ross has started four games since returning to the starting rotation, giving up three earned runs while striking out 28 batters in 27 innings pitched.
Plain and simple, Ross has looked like one of the best pitchers in the entire league since July 23. His slider has gone from an above-average pitch to an unhittable pitch. If he is ever able to stay healthy and pitch this way for an entire season, Ross could certainly be getting consideration for the Cy Young Award, given out every season to the league’s best pitcher.
It’s been an amazing transformation, and an amazing season, for Tyson Ross. He’s gone from a failed prospect with the A’s to a pitcher who major-league hitters are starting to fear. As many pitchers that have come through the Padres’ organization in the last decade can tell Ross, it’s good to be Balsley’s latest project.