Street returns ready to put injury woes in past
Padres closer determined to remain healthy after two DL stints in strong 2012
PEORIA, Ariz. -- He was a baby-faced rookie pitching for the A's, a 21-year-old who had something bigger and better in store for him than toiling too long in the Minor Leagues.
Midland, Kane County, Sacramento -- Huston Street visited A's affiliates in 2004, but never stayed for too long, bolting through the A's system in only one year.
Where has the time gone, Street openly wondered this week.
"I'm 29," he said. "It's not like I'm old."
Try telling his body that.
There are days when the aches from six different stints on the disabled list in his career make Street feel older than he has a right to. These are the reminders from the varying strains he's endured -- lat, triceps, groin and calf. There was an inflamed shoulder and irritation in his ulnar nerve in there, as well.
A year ago, his first as closer for the Padres, Street saved 23 games and held opponents to eight earned runs -– it was only three until the final week of the regular season. That's correct, three earned runs in 37 games, which goes a long ways in explaining why he was picked for the National League All-Star team.
But Street was derailed by two lengthy disabled-list stints that took the shine off what would have been one of the best seasons by any Padres closer, including those with the last name Hoffman.
"The disabled list is always frustrating, and I've been on it more than I've wanted to in my career," Street said. "My job is to be best I can be. I've tried to control injuries as much as I can. You go into every year expecting not to get hurt and be available for all 162 games."
That's the goal for Street this season, when he will attempt to anchor the back end of the Padres' bullpen and shoulder what figures to be a heavy workload, especially for a team that doesn't always score a lot of runs and plays its home games in a ballpark that caters to pitchers.
The Padres have made a noteworthy commitment to Street, and he to them. He left what likely would have been a bigger payday on the table by agreeing to a two-year, $14 million deal that he essentially negotiated himself last July. There's a club option for $7 million in 2015 as well.
"I want to be a part of this, and that's why I stayed here," Street said. "You have to believe. That's where everything starts. But then you have to go do it. I'm working toward April 1, but I'm also working toward October 1. We're not just here to play a season, but to play a successful season."
Street, who reached the 200-save mark for his career last season, is coming off a season where he had a 0.97 ERA until his final three appearances, when he allowed five earned runs. Prior to his slide, opposing batters were hitting just .094 against him.
Had Street finished among qualifying relievers -– he threw 39 innings last season -– his .130 batting average against would have ranked second in the big leagues to the Braves' Craig Kimbrel (.126).
"He's unbelievable," said Padres catcher Nick Hundley, who caught Trevor Hoffman, Heath Bell and now Street in his career. "He's really sharp in terms of focus and what he wants to do. He's doesn't get caught up in velocity or statistics. He cares about getting the job done."
Unlike his predecessors, Street doesn't have a pitch that is equally renowned and devastating, as was the case with Hoffman's changeup. He doesn't have the velocity Bell had. In fact, his fastball velocity a year ago, according to Fangraphs, was the lowest (88.9 mph) it's been in his career.
Hundley said Street has the uncanny knack of throwing a pitch where he wants to, when he wants to. Sound easy enough? It's not, Hundley said.
"I think he's realized what type of pitcher he is and knows what he needs to do to be successful," Hundley said. "I mean, if he misses a spot in the bullpen, he's mad at himself."
Now the trick, Street says, is to remain healthy. He's already picked the brain of the Padres' new strength and conditioning coach, Brett McCabe. Street admits to "constantly tweaking" his program in pursuit of a clean bill of health.
Last season, Street went on the disabled list on May 5 with a strained right lat. He would miss 29 games.
"The first one, there was light at the end of the tunnel pretty quickly," he said.
Street returned on June 5 and picked up right where he left off, until he was sidelined on Aug. 11, when he strained his left calf covering first base on a ground ball to the right side of the infield -- a simple and otherwise harmless play that gets repetition after repetition in Spring Training.
"Shocking, really," Street said of the injury. "I think it was shocking to everyone, especially the length of time I missed (35 games)."
Street returned on September 21 and appeared in three games -- the three aforementioned ones where he showed obvious signs of rust.
"Those three games skewed how everything looked," he said.
Healthy again, Street is optimistic about what 2013 could hold for the Padres. He sees a bright future for this season. He sees one for himself as well.
"I know it's my ninth season, but sometimes it just takes you a while to figure things out," Street said. "This is a tough game and sometimes you play through a lot of things. It's such a learning curve."