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Munoz gearing up for big spots with Padres

Tatis already an award winner; Hedges reinstated; Allen optioned
@AJCassavell
July 16, 2019

MIAMI -- Sooner or later, Andres Munoz is going to pitch high-leverage relief innings for the 2019 Padres. Given the way he’s started his big league career, sooner seems like the better bet. Munoz, the Padres' No. 18 prospect per MLB Pipeline, has made two appearances since he was called

MIAMI -- Sooner or later, Andres Munoz is going to pitch high-leverage relief innings for the 2019 Padres.

Given the way he’s started his big league career, sooner seems like the better bet.

Munoz, the Padres' No. 18 prospect per MLB Pipeline, has made two appearances since he was called up on Friday, and he's dazzled both times. With a fastball averaging 100.6 mph, the 20-year-old right-hander has pitched 2 1/3 hitless innings, striking out three of the nine batters he's faced.

"He's a guy who we've always anticipated would pitch in some leverage situations," Padres manager Andy Green said. "We'll see what situations present themselves and ... we'll watch how he evolves."

Munoz's evolution could prove pivotal for a bullpen that has struggled to find a bridge to closer Kirby Yates. The Padres' 4.91 ERA among relievers is 24th in the Majors and is the second worst in team history.

Trey Wingenter and Craig Stammen have filled setup roles serviceably. But the Padres don't have many other options they can trust in big situations. Perhaps that's where Munoz comes in. He certainly wants the ball.

"I like tight situations," Munoz said. "I like pitching in those spots. Sometimes they make me perform better, and [I] give it my best in those outings."

Of course, the Padres will be cautious with the 20-year-old, who has already thrown more professional innings this season (38) than he ever has. On Saturday, for instance, Munoz was unavailable because the club has imposed a guideline that he won't pitch three times in four days.

But even if Munoz isn't used every night, he could ease some of the burden on Stammen and Yates. Entering play on Tuesday, Stammen's 49 relief innings this season were second most in the National League. Yates' 30 saves are the most in the Majors.

"He's a guy we've talked about for a long time," Green said of Munoz. "We want to get him comfortable here at the big league level. He's young, probably one of the youngest pitchers in the league right now. But it's as live of an arm as there is in the big leagues."

Technically, Munoz isn't one of the youngest pitchers in the Majors. He's the youngest pitcher in the Majors, with Toronto's Elvis Luciano (19) currently on the injured list.

But on the mound, Munoz has looked far advanced of his age. His fastball already qualifies as elite, and his slider seems like a legit weapon. He's thrown nine of the latter, including six for strikes -- two whiffs, two strikes looking and two soft outs.

"It tells me my stuff's good," Munoz said of his first two big league outings. "But personally, I want to mix a little bit more. Seeing that, it makes me want to mix my two pitches and vary a little bit -- especially with the focus on being in the zone. Because big league hitters aren't going to chase."

Noteworthy

• Fernando Tatis Jr. was named the Padres' Heart & Hustle Award winner on Tuesday by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. He's one of 30 players in the running for the league-wide honor which will be revealed in November.

"It says a lot about a rookie, getting that award," Green said. "You see it in the way he plays, though. He's flying around the field all the time, doing some impressive things, and he plays with a tremendous amount of passion and energy. He ignites a lot of people on the team with the way he goes about his job."

Understated as always, Tatis said: "I'm just trying to bring my A-game to the field every day and trying to help my team win in any way possible."

• Catcher Austin Hedges was reinstated from the bereavement list on Tuesday, with Austin Allen optioned to Triple-A El Paso. Lefty Eric Lauer has yet to be reinstated.

• The Padres announced that right-hander Dinelson Lamet will pitch Thursday's series finale in Miami, meaning Lauer will likely return to the mound this weekend in Chicago against the Cubs.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.