Austin Nola is back, and, at long last, the Padres can align their organizational catching depth the way they always envisioned this season.
Nola was activated from the injured list on Wednesday before the Padres' 12-3 victory in Arizona, after missing the first four weeks of the season with a fractured left middle finger -- a recovery that took longer than originally anticipated. Acquired from Seattle at the Trade Deadline last year, Nola will slot in as the Padres’ regular starting catcher, with Victor Caratini handling a backup role.
“I look forward to getting him behind the plate and getting his game going again,” said Padres manager Tingler. “But overall, [Nola] is a leader in the room, a guy a lot of the players and staff believe in. It’s going to be really nice having him a part of it going forward.”
Caratini is still likely to start on Friday night as Yu Darvish’s personal catcher, but Nola should begin getting regular starts behind the plate, perhaps as soon as Saturday.
Meanwhile, rookie Luis Campusano was optioned to the team's alternate training site. Campusano was just 3-for-34 at the plate, while struggling defensively.
The Padres still anticipate big things in the future from Campusano, their No. 3 prospect in the MLB Pipeline rankings. But he has caught only 151 professional games since he was taken in the second round of the 2017 Draft. The Padres feel Campusano would benefit greatly from some further Minor League seasoning.
When Nola reported feeling good afterward, the Padres made the decision to activate him and have his bat available off the bench. Caratini replaced Campusano in the lineup, batting seventh.
Nola made his season debut as a pinch-hitter in the top of the ninth inning, flying out to right field. He played second base in the bottom half of the frame -- and even helped turn a double play – as Tingler wanted to make sure he had insurance behind the plate. (Nola has played a decent amount of infield in the past, but Tingler said not to expect much of it in the near future.)
Nola's return is a huge boon for the Padres’ offense. In 48 games last season between Seattle and San Diego, Nola had a slash line of .273/.353/.472. Entering Wednesday, Padres catchers had combined to go .184/.258/.241 in 2021.
Nola’s presence, of course, extends beyond the batter’s box. He’s revered by Padres pitchers as an expert game-manager and pitch-caller.
Said right-hander Austin Adams, who arrived in San Diego alongside Nola in the trade with Seattle last August: “He’s probably the smartest catcher I’ve ever worked with.”