FORT MYERS, Fla. – For nearly all of his nine major league seasons, Tim Stauffer has had a manager he could relate to. Bud Black, in charge of the Padres since 2007, is a former pitcher, after all.
Now that he has changed teams, Stauffer will play for another manager who understands him. Paul Molitor, you see, once endured a string of injuries that both frustrated and tested him.
And that's been the story of Stauffer's career. Or at least, it once was.
"You can't let that define you," the righthander said Wednesday. "I feel like I've learned a lot within the game itself. It's been good — I've gotten the opportunity to play for a long time."
Now he will play for a manager who lost more than 300 games to injury during his first seven seasons. A manager who knows what it's like to spend your days watching baseball instead of playing it.
"I like when guys persevere," Molitor said of the 32-year-old pitcher, the least-known of the Twins' three free-agent signees over the winter. "There are times when you're rehabbing, and injuries start backing up, and they're relatively frequent — it'll challenge you mentally. But hopefully, in the long run, it makes you better."
That's Stauffer's attitude, too, and good thing. He has been dealing with injuries since the day he was drafted. When the Padres selected him fourth overall in 2003 after an All-America season at Richmond, they hoped they had drafted a tentpole for their rotation. But Stauffer's shoulder was bothering him, and a doctor found some weakness.
When San Diego offered him $2.6 million to sign, the pitcher and his agent, Ron Shapiro (whose client list includes Joe Mauer), chose honesty and informed the Padres of his condition, a disclosure that reduced his bonus to $750,000.
"He's one of those guys whose character shows up right away," Molitor said.
Stauffer was able to pitch, albeit with minor pain, for three seasons before finally needing surgery on the labrum in his shoulder, a procedure that cost him all of the 2008 season. An appendectomy knocked him out for two months in 2009, and elbow surgery meant he was sidelined for all but one start in 2012.
In between all the DL stints, though, Stauffer was becoming a pretty good pitcher. He owns a 3.37 ERA since returning from his shoulder problems six years ago, and while that was aided by pitching in Petco Park, his ERA is a reasonable 4.31 away from home.
Stauffer was the Padres' Opening Day starter in 2011, but after his elbow surgery, Black decided to ease him back into the mix by moving him to the bullpen. Stauffer has pitched — injury-free — in 87 games the past two seasons, but 84 were in relief. The Twins promised him a chance to start again when he signed a one-year, $2.2 million contract on Dec. 23, but he understands he'll most likely remain a reliever.
"I'll get the pitch count built up in spring training and see how things work out. I'm not concerned about my role at this point, I just want to go out and pitch," he said. "Whatever role that is, if it helps the team, so be it."
A former teammate believes he can be a big help. Blaine Boyer pitched in the Padres bullpen last year, too, and was convinced that Stauffer has the stuff to escape that role.
"You look at his repertoire, he doesn't necessarily pitch like a reliever. He's got a lot of different ammo he can throw at you, and he throws them very well," Boyer said. "He's kind of got a starter's mentality."
And a decade's worth of stick-to-itiveness.
"You know the hours will be massive and the odds may not even be in your favor, but you've got to persevere through it," said Molitor, who observed Stauffer's throwing session Wednesday. "It's been a road for him, but he found his way, found a little bullpen niche out there. … It's impressive."