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PCL notes: Erlin commanding fastball
No. 8 Padres prospect starts strong, avoids the injury bug
06/10/2013 10:00 AM ET
Robbie Erlin fanned a season-high 11 over seven shutout innings May 27.
Robbie Erlin fanned a season-high 11 over seven shutout innings May 27. (Shawn E. Davis/MiLB.com)

Down they went last season, one after another.

San Diego Padres prospects were being taken out by elbow injuries at an alarming rate.

Among those who missed time, left-hander Robbie Erlin was lucky. Though he was limited to just 60 2/3 innings between Double-A San Antonio and the Rookie Arizona League, Erlin did not require Tommy John surgery like so many others.

Erlin doesn't why multiple pitchers went down with the same type of injury.

"I couldn't tell you," Erlin said. "I think last year was just a coincidence. It was an unfortunate year. The Padres have a really good strength program, a really good training program. I think it was just a fluke year."

This season started off just as poorly for the Padres organization, with outfielder Rymer Liriano and right-hander Casey Kelly both succumbing to Tommy John. In the blink of an eye, San Diego's No. 2 and 3 prospects were out for the year.

Erlin, however, has done his part to make up for their losses. In nine starts for Tucson, the No. 8 prospect has gone 4-1 with a 3.97 ERA. His best start was back on May 27 when he struck out 11 in seven shutout innings against Sacramento.

"(Catcher Rene Rivera) and I were on the same page," Erlin said. "Defense was huge behind me. I just tried to rely on commanding the ball. Off-speed [pitches] were working that day. I gave up a few hard-hit balls, but they just happened to hit them where defenders were."

Erlin has also made three appearances in the Majors this season, including a solid spot start June 1 in which he earned the victory. Erlin allowed two runs on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out four and did not walk a batter.

"Command the ball, that's it," Erlin said was the key to his success. "It's a small taste but what I really realized is it's the same game. You have to command your pitches because the hitters there don't miss much. As long as you can command and you know yourself, you know what you can do. You're on the right path. You're working towards it."

Though he took a loss after returning to the PCL against Sacramento on June 6, giving up three earned runs in five innings, Erlin has remained one of the steadiest performers on the Tucson staff. He said there is nothing too unique to finding success in a hitters' league.

"Fastball command," Erlin said. "Obviously in this league, if it's up it's going to get hit. If they can eliminate that fastball and stay back they're going to be able to hit the off-speed so the off-speeds weren't effective. It's all about commanding the ball. That's what I'm always working on."

Erlin and the Tucson Padres start a four-game series at Fresno today.

In brief

Lake jumps in: The Iowa Cubs got a boost this week when No. 9 prospect Junior Lake came off the disabled list. Making three starts at third base and one in right field, Lake has hit .462 (6-for-13) with four runs scored, three doubles and one RBI. Lake had been out with a stress fracture in his rib cage that he suffered during Spring Training.

Wheels are back on: Colorado Springs outfielder Tim Wheeler returned to action Saturday after a month on the disabled list. It has been a tough year for the Rockies' No. 7 prospect, who is batting just .196 (18-for-92) with no home runs and eight RBIs. Wheeler went 0-for-3 at Reno on Saturday though the Sky Sox won the game, 2-1.

Going Green: Sacramento second baseman Grant Green is starting to catch fire at the plate. Green has two or more hits in five of his last six games for the River Cats, batting .400 (14-for-35) with three home runs and 11 RBIs. Oakland's No. 3 prospect may not be in the PCL much longer.

Chris Jackson is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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