In just three starts, Padres' Despaigne has shown he knows his game and how to get outs
JUL 09, 2014 12:25p ET
He does not possess the electricity of White Sox slugger Jose Abreu. He lacks the flash of Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers' flamboyant fireball. He's yet to show up at an All-Star Game like the Athletics' Yoenis Cespedes, or even make 18 starts this summer like the Mariners' Roenis Elias.
But give Odrisamer Despaigne time. Given what he's done in just three starts in San Diego, the Padres' newest find sure looks like he's ready to take his place somewhere amid the recent highly productive wave of his Cuban countrymen bursting onto the major league scene.
"He's done great," appreciative Padres manager Bud Black says. "The thing that's proven out here is that he knows his game.
"He knows what to do to get outs."
With a high baseball IQ and a unique ability to throw pitches over a 30 m.p.h. range, Despaigne not only knows what to do to get outs, more often than not over his first three starts that have left everyone who's seen them wanting more (except, of course, opposing hitters), he's gotten them.
Behind a fastball that touches 92 and a curve that lollygags as low as 62, Despaigne is 2-0 with an 0.92 ERA over his first three major-league starts. In 19 2/3 innings, he's fanned only five and walked eight. But he's made it work. His WHIP is a sparkling 0.966, and opponents are hitting only .175 against him.
"This guy, he's a little more seasoned than you might expect," Black says, and no kidding.
If there's one thing the industry has learned over the years when it comes to players who have fled Cuba, it's that they usually are mature beyond their years and they come with nerves of steel. To do the things they must do to gain their freedom - the stories usually include the common denominators the dead of night, a creaky raft or boat and a daring, elaborate escape plan - well, after that, pitching in front of 40,000 or so doesn't exactly make their knees shake.
In the case of Despaigne, he and countryman Aledmys Diaz held an open tryout for scouts on Feb. 13 at the Padres' spring headquarters in Peoria, Ariz. About 50 scouts attended, and the Padres wound up signing him to a minor-league deal with a $1 million signing bonus on May 2.
The Padres started Despaigne at Double-A San Antonio, where he produced a 1.17 ERA in two starts and was quickly promoted to Triple-A El Paso.
“Mix all of that together - the pitches and the arm angles - and an opposing hitter can wind up facing what looks to be a dozen or so different pitches from the 27-year-old right-hander.”
Here is where you figure he continued to dominate, right? Wrong. He was very good at times ... but maddeningly inconsistent at other times. He frequently shook off his catcher, more than 30 times in one start, according to MLB.com's Corey Brock.
That's not pitching, that's directing.
The Padres figured maybe he was getting bored. Despaigne did, after all, pitch on the big stage of the World Baseball Classic for Cuba. He pitched for the Havana Industriales.
Maybe in some of these El Paso starts, he was simply Havana daydreaming.
Whatever, when Andrew Cashner landed on the disabled list, Despaigne was summoned to the Padres to start June 23 in San Francisco.
Talk about rising to a challenge. Despaigne hasn't looked bored once.
"He's always been on the radar," Black says. "Our minor-league people saw flashes in spurts. At-bats, innings. ..."
Despaigne's array of pitches is an endless source of fascination, like what's going to appear next from a magician's hat. He throws a fastball, slider, curve and change-up. He throws what looks like a little cutter. He throws from a variety of arm angles - up top, three-quarters, sidearm, sometimes even lower than that.
Mix all of that together - the pitches and the arm angles - and an opposing hitter can wind up facing what looks to be a dozen or so different pitches from the 27-year-old right-hander.
This is what Black is talking about when he says Despaigne "knows his game" and "knows what to do to get outs." There is both stuff and deception, which can be a lethal combination.
"He's got a pitcher's mind and a good heartbeat," Black says.
That, too, can comprise a lethal combination.
"I don't think anybody knows what a Cuban defector goes through," Black says. "I really don't think anybody knows how that translates. But I think it's more on the positive side than the negative side, as far as the pressure more than anything."
We watched his half-brother, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, pitch in four different World Series' for the Yankees from 1998-2001, then another with the White Sox in 2005, handling each of one as if sipping lemonade on his back porch.
"They didn't care if there were 50,000 people there, or 1," Black says.
No question, you go through what Despaigne has gone through, you're cut from a different cloth.
Next up, in just his fourth career start, all Despaigne must do Thursday is tackle Clayton Kershaw and Dodger Stadium. All Kershaw has is a scoreless streak of 36 consecutive scoreless innings, the third-longest streak since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1957 behind Orel Hershiser and Don Drysdale.
Sounds like the kind of challenge that is right up Despaigne's alley, doesn't it?
Longtime national sports columnist Scott Miller is a weekly contributor to FOX Sports San Diego. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMillerBbl.