PHILADELPHIA -- San Diego Padres closer Huston Street’s biggest strength -- other than the ability to throw three pitches with impeccable control -- is his willingness to subjugate his ego for the ultimate goal.
As long as the day ends with a congratulatory handshake with the catcher, he can live with all the doubts people might harbor over his 89.3 mph fastball.
Combine middling velocity, a losing team and lots of saves when it’s 1 a.m. on the East Coast, and Street tends to work in a publicity vacuum. But that’s about to change. Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline is seven weeks away, and Street is a prime candidate to cross the border to Human Trade Rumor Land.
When Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain endure another hiccup in Detroit, Street’s name surfaces as a potential alternative. Over the coming weeks, he could just as easily be linked to the Baltimore Orioles or another team with injury issues or uncertainty at the back of its bullpen.
He heard the trade static last summer only to remain with the Padres, so he’s prepared for whatever might come his way this year.
“It’s a part of the game,” Street said Tuesday from Citizens Bank Park. “It’s not going to distract me. I’ll give the same answer I have year after year: I have no control over it. I don’t have a no-trade clause, so there’s nothing for me to consider.
“If the phone rings and they say, ‘Hey, we shipped you,’ then you just put on a new uniform and try to get to know your teammates and go to battle for a new team.”
In the absence of a ring, a text message or an email, he’ll keep plugging away in anonymous one-inning increments.
“My job is to throw fastballs down and away and spot sliders,” he said.
It’s all good on that front. Street, 30, is putting together a run that’s likely to land him in his second career All-Star Game next month in Minnesota:
He’s converted all 18 save opportunities this season -- the longest active streak in the majors -- and has cashed in on 103 of 110 chances since 2011. His 93.6 percent conversion rate in that span is the best in baseball.
Lefties are hitting .132 with a .451 OPS against Street this season, while righties check in at .146 and .425. In three years as a Padre, Street has allowed 73 hits in 120 2/3 innings.
He also has been equally effective at Petco Park and on the road, where he has yet to allow a run in 11 innings and is holding opponents to a batting average of .086 (3-for-35) this season.
As a 6-foot right-hander with a sub-90s fastball, Street fits the classic “pitch to contact” stereotype. But he has 570 strikeouts in 567 career innings, and this year he has a swing-and-miss rate of 12.9 percent. Although that’s not as otherworldly as Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel and some elite closers, he’s in the conversation.
Street’s skills are probably best appreciated when watched on a daily basis. He’s resourceful enough to throw from different spots on the rubber to give hitters a variety of angles, and he has a knack for knowing when to attack and when to back off in the course of navigating the ninth inning. Most important, he has a time-tested ability to throw his fastball, slider and changeup to precise locations.
“He throws every pitch with conviction,” said Padres setup man Joaquin Benoit. “Every time he takes the mound, you expect him to hit his spots. It’s like Greg Maddux. He works on it every day. I’ve seen a couple of videos of him, and he was the same guy when he was in college [at Texas].”
San Diego general manager Josh Byrnes is ultimately going to have to determine when it’s time to enter the seller’s domain. The Padres are 28-36, but they’ve yet to lose contact with the top wild-card contenders despite an offense that gives new meaning to the word “anemic.” They’re last in the majors in runs (197), OPS (.623) and numerous other categories, and they didn’t show any signs of improvement in a 5-2 loss to the Phillies on Tuesday.
Street is signed for $7 million this year, and the Padres have a $7 million option on him for 2015. That’s a reasonable salary for team in a race, but he’s also cost-efficient enough that the Padres don’t feel a burning desire to move him. San Diego had a $90 million Opening Day payroll (21st among the 30 MLB teams) and $13 million of that is tied up in Street and Benoit. But when the Padres are actually able to build a lead, manager Bud Black is pretty comfortable they’ll maintain it.
“We realize that having a good bullpen is important, because we play a lot of tight, low-scoring games,” Byrnes said. “When we do get the ball to the Benoits and the Streets, that’s a good thing.”
A lot of questions have to unfold for Street’s future to be resolved:
Will the field of suitors expand through attrition in the next month? Is there a scout out there who’ll pound the table for an undersized righty with underwhelming velocity? And even if a contender is interested, can the Padres acquire an impact bat for Street?
Street lived through an emotionally difficult offseason after his father, James, the former University of Texas quarterback, died of a heart attack in September. But he arrived in spring training as his typically focused-yet-free-spirited self.
One of his main agendas has been getting the notoriously intense Carlos Quentin to have more fun. Toward that end, Street started a ritual called #spyoncarlos on his Twitter account (@HustonStreet). If it means hiding out in the laundry room or springing into action on a charter flight, he’s poised to take photos of Quentin and share them with the world. It’s all part of the emotional attachment he’s formed with San Diego since 2012.
“I don’t want to be traded,” Street said. “I like my group in here. I think we can definitely hit better, and I think all the guys in here would say that. If we do, we’ve proven that if we score three to four runs, we’ll win a lot of games.
“To me, it’s really a question of, ‘Does the organization think we can win?’ I believe we can win. That’s why I signed back here.”
Radar gun readings notwithstanding, Street continues to do his job and perform like a dominant closer. If his fellow Padres want to keep him around, they might want to start giving him a few more leads to protect.