After breezing through Lake Elsinore and Mobile with a 1.78 and 2.63 ERA, respectively, in 2004, Stauffer ran into his first wave of trouble as a Portland Beaver but ended the year with a respectable 3.54 ERA in 14 starts.
His biggest issue was elevating pitches in the Pacific Coast League, resulting in 15 homers.
In 2005, the right-hander was back in Portland to begin the year and started out on fire. In the six starts before his promotion to San Diego, Stauffer allowed two earned runs or less in four and held a 2.33 ERA. His final start on May 5 was a nine-inning gem that he did not earn a decision in despite not allowing a run on six hits. His average against to that point was .238.
In his major league debut against Cincinnati he earned the win with six innings of two run ball. But he would battle inconsistency through the rest of his time in San Diego, a span of 15 games and 14 starts. Capable of a solid outing one week he would come back and struggle the next time out. It was akin to the Brian Lawrence disease where no one knew which pitcher would show up. In his final two starts, he gave up 13 runs in 8.2 innings before appearing in one last game of relief – then he was shipped back to Portland.
"I think once you are at a place a little longer you are just a little more comfortable," said Stauffer. "Usually your gameplan each time out is going to change depending on the team and depending on the lineup they put in there."
"A lot of times when someone struggles guys start to panic, but his stuff was still there throughout," Tye Waller, the Padres' former director of player development, said.
His August return to Portland was a carryover of his final two starts with the Padres. Six starts, which spanned 27.2 innings produced 36 runs, 33 earned, on 53 hits and nine walks was the tally and four more homers allowed.
Simply put, he pressed after the demotion. He was no longer pitching down in the zone – something that deserted him during the final month in San Diego when he gave up five homers in his last four starts.
"In his short and very successful career, he hasn't really ever faced any adversity, so I'm sure it was tough for him mentally to come down to Portland and then get lit up a bunch of times," said a Padres scout. "His last start of the year was excellent though, so you know he kept working at whatever the problems were and didn't just mail it in. That's a good sign."
He rebounded in his final start of the season, tossing a complete game three hitter.
Stauffer's fastball sits in the 88-91 range with good movement and at times he can rear back and hit 93. He compliments the heat with a changeup, a curveball, a knucklecurve and a cut fastball. The Maine native is on when he is pitching down in the zone and getting ground ball outs. He pitches to contact – which makes his location imperative to his success.
Stauffer is a player the Padres classify as having a great makeup and they love his poise on the mound – with little getting the righty out of his game. But that label has taken a hit as he had a span of two months where extra base hits were common and pitching low in the zone was not.
The Padres rotation candidates were plentiful this spring. That has pushed Stauffer back to Portland to begin the year.
His mental health after an off-season of thought will be intriguing to watch. Getting away from the game was probably the healthiest thing that could have happened to the former University of Richmond ace. He has the stuff to be a major league starter, albeit on the back end of the five-man rotation, and a clear head will bring him back to where he was in 2004.