Former Brave Buchter finds fit with Padres

Former Brave Buchter finds fit with Padres

SAN DIEGO -- There were times when Ryan Buchter was downright dominant as a reliever in the Braves' Minor League system.

In 2012, the left-hander posted a 1.31 ERA with a 1.04 WHIP and 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings for Double-A Mississippi. A year later, for Triple-A Gwinnett, he finished with a 2.76 ERA, while whiffing 103 hitters in 62 innings.

The Braves, meanwhile, were in pennant races both seasons. In their eyes, with the playoffs on the line, it wasn't worth calling up a Minor Leaguer who had struggled a bit with control.

As Buchter puts it, "They didn't really want to take a chance."

The Padres, of course, took a chance on Buchter two years later, offering the 29-year-old -- who had only thrown one inning at the big league level -- a Major League deal. With the Braves in town for a three-game set this week, Buchter reflected on the lessons he learned with Atlanta.

Buchter tossed a scoreless ninth inning Monday, striking out two, in the Padres' 7-2 victory over the Braves.

"You just have to keep working," Buchter said. "I thought I did pretty well there and didn't really get the opportunity. It toughened me up a little bit."

The Padres have raved about Buchter's thick skin and confidence this season. Despite a league-average-velocity fastball, Buchter has used it almost exclusively -- and to fantastic results. (That's largely the result of a well-above-average spin rate.) Entering play Tuesday, the Buchter had a 2.16 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 25 innings.

In fact, the Padres have been so encouraged by Buchter's start to the season -- and his overall mental makeup -- that he was designated as the closer on Sunday, with Fernando Rodney in the Dominican Republic for his son's graduation.

Although he didn't get the chance to pitch in the Padres' 10-3 loss, Buchter said he took that news as a compliment.

"It's definitely encouraging," said Buchter. "It's a different mindset, knowing you're going to wait until the last inning to pitch."

Buchter has spent most of the season as the club's primary seventh-inning guy. With Brandon Maurer struggling, he was promoted to the eighth-inning role. Long-term, the Padres feel as though Buchter has the makeup necessary to keep getting the ball in high-leverage situations late.

Buchter thinks so, too.

"To me, the closer role or eighth and ninth inning, I think it kind of fits me best," Buchter said. "There's a lot of pressure on the other team to come back, and that fits into my game. I just feel like I attack hitters, I throw a lot of fastballs -- not necessarily in the strike zone. I'm putting pressure on them to swing at bad pitches."

Buchter seems to enjoy pitching in big moments more than most. He hasn't started since high school, and he's been a late-inning reliever for virtually all of his Minor League career.

But he's hardly spent any time as a closer. He says he took over that role a couple times in the Minors when the previous closer was promoted midseason. But the only extended time he's seen at the back of a bullpen came at Gloucester County College in New Jersey.

"I was the closer on a team that won every game by 20," Buchter said with a smile. "I didn't really get much action there."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.