Padres lose Nola for season (thumb surgery)

September 24th, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres’ brutal injury luck took another unfortunate turn on Friday, as catcher Austin Nola was shut down for the season.

The 31-year-old backstop will undergo surgery to address a sprained thumb that he sustained on Tuesday in a collision at home plate with Giants first baseman Brandon Belt. Nola should have a relatively normal offseason after a few weeks of recovery, and the Padres expect him to be a full-go for Spring Training.

“It’s been an all-around tough year, from a team standpoint and from an individual standpoint,” Nola said. “And that’s where it’s been really tough. Because when you’re winning, it takes care of everything. That’s where it’s been tough -- the ups and downs for me, without the winning for us.”

It's the latest twist in a season that was marred by injury for Nola -- an integral part of the Padres’ 2021 plans, who played in only 56 games. Prior to this year, he had never spent any time on the IL at any level in 10 professional seasons. But Nola missed most of the first month with a broken finger, then two months in the middle of the season with a left knee sprain. And now this.

 “You’ve got to keep moving forward,” Nola said. “No matter what happens, you have to keep pressing on for whatever’s next.”

The Padres recalled catcher Webster Rivas from Triple-A El Paso to take Nola's spot on the roster. Rivas will again share time with Victor Caratini behind the dish -- two light-hitting catchers who have combined to bat .221 this season.

In a way, it’s emblematic of the way the entire Padres’ season has gone. They were dealt an injury blow, and they didn’t quite have the depth to make up for it.

Nola received only 194 plate appearances, during which he batted .272/.340/.376. He didn't offer much power, hitting just two home runs. But Nola finishes the year with a wRC+ of exactly 100.

Essentially, Nola was a league average hitter who plays a premium defensive position -- and plays it well. Boy, could the Padres have used more of that this season.

"It's been really hard on him, just because in all his experience of playing, he's never really been on the IL," said manager Jayce Tingler. "Incredibly challenging, certainly when you've always been a guy that's been on the field."

Nola was the centerpiece of a seven-player blockbuster at the Trade Deadline last summer. Thus far, the move hasn't quite paid dividends, with Ty France starring for an upstart Seattle team.

Still, the Padres have plenty of time to reap the rewards of that trade. Nola, who didn't make his big league breakthrough until he was 29, is under team control through 2025. The Padres are hopeful that Nola's injury-riddled '21 season is merely a blip, and that he'll revert to his usual form in '22.

"He's going to come back stronger than ever," Tingler said. "I feel bad for him, just because of all the things he's had to deal with, and he never thinks about himself. Even discussing going on the IL, his actions are never about himself. He's just so disappointed that he can't be there for the team.

"And I think that speaks to his character and makeup. Those are the types of guys that as a manager and a coach, you just love to have."