SAN DIEGO -- In a vexing, frustrating and wholly unlucky six-week stretch in 2012, the Padres had four starting pitchers land on the disabled list.
Three of them -- Dustin Moseley, Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland -- wouldn't pitch again that season. The fourth, Tim Stauffer, returned for one start only to land on the disabled list again for the remainder of the season.
By mid-May that year, all of the depth the Padres had built within their starting-pitching ranks -- both at the Major League level and in the Minor Leagues -- was severely tested, so much so that the club had to turn to veteran castoffs Jeff Suppan, Ross Ohlendorf and Kip Wells to fills voids in the rotation.
"It was, hopefully, as bad as it ever gets," executive VP and general manager Josh Byrnes said of the injuries.
Health issues and underperformance have taken a toll on San Diego's rotation in each of the past two seasons, though Byrnes is hoping that won't be the case moving forward.
On Wednesday, the Padres inked free-agent pitcher Josh Johnson to a one-year deal worth $8 million, giving the team a legitimate nine candidates for five rotation spots -- with several others close to being ready -- if nothing changes between now and the start of Spring Training in February.
In addition to Johnson, San Diego returns Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy and Eric Stults. Luebke and Wieland, who should be ready for the start of Spring Training or shortly thereafter after 2012 Tommy John surgery, are two more candidates. Burch Smith and Robbie Erlin, who were both impressive at times in September, could contend for spots as well.
"It's not my nature to oversell, but I think we've taken a huge step," Byrnes said. "We saw at the end of last year, having Kennedy, Cashner and Ross in the rotation, knowing where Luebke and Wieland have ended up this fall, adding Josh Johnson, the progression of Smith and Erlin … the guys who have yet to pitch in the big leagues.
"From where we were, in terms of upside, potential and depth, it's a big change. I'm excited about it. From where we sit today, we've taken a step forward."
Johnson (free agent), Cashner (trade, Cubs), Kennedy (trade, D-backs) and Ross (trade, A's) were all acquired by Byrnes. Stults was signed in 2012 after being designated by the White Sox. Erlin and Wieland were obtained from the Rangers in 2011 at the Trade Deadline for Mike Adams. Luebke and Smith are homegrown products.
Minor League pitchers Matt Wisler, Keyvius Sampson, Donn Roach and Juan Oramas might not be far from being ready to contend for spots in the rotation. On Wednesday, the Padres added Sampson, Roach and Oramas to their 40-man roster, protecting them from the Rule 5 Draft.
San Diego pitching coach Darren Balsley said Wednesday that the returning rotation arms, and those on the way, are not only an exciting proposition but a dramatic shift from what's happened in recent years.
"I think our depth in the Minor Leagues and the big leagues now can rival any other organization. When I walked over to the Minor League side [in Spring Training], you see guys who can throw a lot of strikes, good arms that can execute," Balsley said.
"We have done an excellent job of grooming these guys and getting them mechanically sound. A lot of these guys knocking on the door are a little more advanced than in the past."