PEORIA, Ariz. -- Pay no attention to the numbers. Reliever Matt Stites has already allowed as many earned runs (four) in Spring Training as he did all of last season, a statistic that reflects more on his dominance in the Class A Midwest League than it does his performance with the Padres.
Stites, just 22 years old, logged an incredible 0.74 ERA last season for Fort Wayne, and he boasts a 1.19 career ERA in 83 1/3 Minor League innings. That track record earned him an invitation to the big league camp, and he's impressed the coaching staff with his stuff.
"Matt's done a nice job," said manager Bud Black. "I think what stands out is a couple things: His talent. His stuff. He's got a good fastball, a good breaking ball, a good change. I like his composure on the mound. He's handled big league camp well. He's shown sort of a calmness to him, yet also an intensity and a competitiveness that we've heard about from our Minor League staff. All the things that our Minor League people have said about him have been validated here, most notably his arm."
Stites, a 17th-round selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, has been untouchable at the lower levels, logging more than twice as many strikeouts (99) as hits allowed. Things have been different in Spring Training, though, and he's allowed eight of the 19 batters he's faced to reach base.
But he's far from concerned. Stites said that pitching is the same no matter what level you're working at, and he said he needs to get ahead in the count in order to be successful.
"The key to success is getting ahead and staying ahead," Stites said, "Putting guys in 0-2 and 1-2 counts and letting them hit my pitch instead of going 2-0 and letting them hit their pitch. That's what's been hard for me. I've struggled here. I've walked two guys here, and I'm not particularly happy about it."
Stites, one of the few players to have a uniform number (85) higher than his season ERA (0.74), said Saturday that his big league teammates have been gracious and accepting in his first Major League Spring Training. The right-hander has made a point of seeking out veterans like Huston Street to talk about his craft, and he said that San Diego's catchers have also helped him.
Perhaps the biggest comfort factor for Stites is the presence of bullpen coach Willie Blair, who served as the pitching coach last year at Fort Wayne. Stites knows what he needs to do to progress through the farm system, and he could move quickly if he takes his spring experience to heart.
"I have decent fastball command, so I'm not worried about that," Stites said. "I need to work on my off-speed more -- changeups and sliders for strikes and for out pitches -- especially at the higher levels."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less