Despaigne's struggles raise questions

Cuban has allowed 15 runs in past eight innings

Despaigne's struggles raise questions

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

Given the unknown return dates of right-handed starters Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson, the recent slump of No. 5 starter Odrisamer Despaigne has to concern the Padres.

In his last two starts, Despaigne has given up 15 runs on 20 hits in eight innings. Over his last three appearances, Despaigne has given up 19 runs on 24 hits, including four home runs, in 9 2/3 innings.

Off those three outings, the Cuban expatriate's earned run average has sky-rocketed from 1.37 - after five appearances (including two starts) covering 19 2/3 innings - to 6.75.

On Friday night, Despaigne, working on an extra three days rest after a disappointing outing on May 7 at Arizona, gave up seven runs on 10 hits in three innings to the Nationals at Petco Park.

Afterwards, Padres manager Bud Black said opponents recently have been laying off Despaigne's variety of off-speed pitches and jumping on his fastball.

Correctable? Yes.

And it has to be since the Padres don't have a lot of options until either Morrow or Johnson are ready.

Morrow, who has been on the disabled list since May 3 with right shoulder inflammation, just started playing catch Friday afternoon. Johnson, who is rehabbing from last year's Tommy John surgery, threw in the bullpen for the first time since coming up sore the day after pitching in a simulated game on May 1. Figuring when he starts a rehab assignment, he'll need a full four- or five-start building process, Johnson is still more than a month of way.

The best options in the Minor Leagues are left-hander Robbie Erlin at Triple-A El Paso and right-hander Colin Rea at Double-A San Antonio. Both are 24. Erlin is on the Padres' 40-man roster. Rea is not. Erlin, has a 7-8 record with a 4.58 ERA in 24 games (20 starts) in parts of two seasons with the Padres. He is 4-2 with a 5.15 ERA in seven starts with Triple-A El Paso this season. Rea has a 1.13 ERA in seven starts with Double-A San Antonio, where he has 43 strikeouts against seven walks in 47 2/3 innings.

From the scorebook:

• Although Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann is right-handed, Clint Barmes got the start at shortstop Friday night over the left-handed-hitting Alexi Amarista. Why? Well, it could have been the fact that Amarista is 3-for-21 recently and in a prolonged slump that has lowered his batting average to .191. Another fact, however, is that with a single Friday night, Barmes is 6-for-7 lifetime against Zimmermann.

• Catcher Derek Norris has hit safely in 19 of his last 25 games. During the run, Norris is hitting .330 (29-for-88) with 11 doubles, a triple, three home runs, 19 RBIs and 14 runs scored. He has a .580 slugging percentage over the last 25 games.

• Left fielder Justin Upton is hitting .321 (17-for-53) in May with three doubles, two home runs, 11 RBIs, 11 runs scored and four steals. With a hit Friday night, Upton improved to 7-for-20 lifetime against Zimmermann.

• Right-handed reliever Shawn Kelley was tagged for Bryce Harper's 14th homer in a two-inning outing Friday night and has allowed three runs on five hits and three strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings in two appearances since returning from the disabled list May 9.