by PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — Joe Thatcher had an idea he might be traded. The Kokomo native had seen his name linked in trade rumors in stories over the last few days, even though he’d heard nothing from his club, the San Diego Padres.
The idea got more plausible Tuesday night when he sat in the Padres’ bullpen during the teams’ game against Cincinnati.
“Yesterday I kind of got a feeling something was gonna happen,” Thatcher said Wednesday, a few hours after San Diego traded the Kokomo High School product to NL West rival Arizona. “There was a situation I would usually be in the game and I didn’t get the call to warm up. You have to have faith that some things happen for a reason.
“We were all kind of joking down in the bullpen, everybody saying they were going to miss me, that I was going to be traded. I half expected to come in after the game and get the news. Obviously, I got the call [Wednesday] morning.”
Thatcher was packaged with a minor leaguer and a draft choice and sent to Arizona for starting pitcher Ian Kennedy. Kennedy had 21 wins two seasons ago though has struggled this year, with an ERA of 5.23.
Thatcher joins a contender in Arizona. The Diamondbacks are in second place in the NL West, 31/2 games behind the division-leading Dodgers. San Diego is just now righting itself after a mid-season tailspin saw the Padres lose 16 of 18 games to go from a couple games off the lead in the division to well off the pace. San Diego is 81/2 games back now.
“I knew the state the Padres were in, I knew it was a good possibility I’d get traded,” Thatcher said. “The last couple days have been kind of uneasy knowing it could happen. I understand it. It’s a part of the game. It’s exciting to know teams want me as part of their bullpen.”
Despite knowing it was possible, the reality of it still came as a shock when Thatcher learned of the trade Wednesday.
“I heard the Diamondbacks had been in talks for a while now,” he said. “I knew that was a possibility but to get the news it was a done deal, it was surprising but it’s exciting too. It’s a good feeling knowing teams were wanting me. Our general manager [Josh Byrnes] said it was a deal they felt they had to make. he said they’d been offered a lot of prospects for me but he felt I was worth more than a couple prospects.”
Thatcher has made his name in the majors as a situational lefty. He pitched in 50 of San Diego’s 108 games this season, usually in short stints of less than an inning. He is 3-1 with an ERA of 2.10 in 30 innings of work. Thatcher has 11 holds, 29 strikeouts and just four walks.
Joining Arizona means a quick move, but not too far. It’s a five-to-six-hour drive from San Diego to Phoenix. His wife Katie and newborn son Jack (born July 16) visited Thatcher when the Padres were on a road swing there from July 26-28. Thatcher said they’ll get a temporary home in Phoenix as soon as possible to have the family together through the rest of the season.
“It makes it a little harder having a newborn, but my wife, she can handle it,” Thatcher said. “Two weeks old, [he’s] already been to Phoenix. We’re lucky we had him over the All-Star break, so I was able to be home, which was amazing obviously.”
Staying in the NL West allows Thatcher to maintain a comfort zone with rival squads he’s already familiar with.
“It’s weird it happened that way but it’s a plus for me,” Thatcher said of the intra-division trade. “It’s familiar to me. We’re playing the same teams. We’re chasing the Dodgers now. They got me to get Adrian [Gonzalez] out and Carl Crawford and [Andre] Ethier, [the Dodgers’] lefties. It’s turned into a good rivalry. They had a history last year and this year of guys throwing at each other and a couple scuffles. It’s exciting. It should be a good time.”
Now, San Diego turns into a rival too. Thatcher said he’ll miss his teammates with San Diego, where he made his big league debut midway through the 2007.
“Some of my best friends I made here in San Diego,” Thatcher said. “We haven’t had one guy in seven years I’ve been here that hasn’t been a good guy. Certain guys you’re close with and certain guys I’ve been with every day for five, six years. Now, all of the sudden, not only am I not going to be there but I’m on a different team.”
The Diamondbacks play a three-game set at San Diego beginning Aug. 26. Thatcher said some of his toughest potential matchups if he were to face the Padres are lefties Will Venable and Yonder Alonso, but the Padres might pinch hit a righty against him which might bring him face-to-face with one of his best friends, Chris Denofria.
“I definitely loved my time in San Diego,” Thatcher said. “I’ll always love the organization and always be pulling for them, except when we play them.”
Thatcher will join Arizona today in Texas as the Diamondbacks play a makeup game against the Rangers. The team then heads to Boston for further interleague play as the Diamondbacks try to keep pace with the red-hot Dodgers.
“That’s what you play for, you play to win, you play for a chance to get to the postseason and the World Series,” Thatcher said. “I like Phoenix. Kevin Towers, the GM there is the guy who got me traded to San Diego [from Milwaukee’s farm system in 2007]. He’s trading for me a second time. It’s good to know he has that confidence in me. It’s exciting. I’m looking forward to starting a new chapter.”