This Padres starter could be in for big year

March 29th, 2023

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell’s Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Happy Opening Day Eve!

I know the circumstances around ’s start aren’t ideal, but it might be perfect that he gets the ball against the Rockies tomorrow.

There’s no messing around this year. Snell, as you probably know, has taken far too long to find his groove in his first two seasons with the Padres. He dealt with injuries and poor performance in the first halves of both the 2021 and 2022 seasons. Then, in both seasons, he rediscovered his dominance near the midway point and looked like the version of himself that won the AL Cy Young Award in 2018.

This time around, the Padres are asking for that version of Snell from Day 1. Snell says he’s ready to deliver.

“There were things I needed to adjust,” said the 30-year-old left-hander, who posted a 2.19 ERA in the second half last season. “I like where I’m at right now.”

This winter, Snell began his throwing progression earlier than usual -- and he threw more often. That arose from conversations with fellow pitchers on the staff, including , who Snell said was particularly helpful imparting wisdom on offseason preparation. Snell says his body responded to that workload in an extremely positive way. He didn’t suffer his typical nagging early-spring arm soreness.

“He was a little bit more ramped up once he got to camp,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “[He] knows that we’re counting on him from Day 1.”

Snell, of course, is a remarkable fallback option for Opening Day, with Darvish bumped to the back of the rotation following his irregular World Baseball Classic schedule and set to begin the season on the injured list with a fractured left big toe.

Those two entered camp as favorites to start the opener. But when Snell is in a groove, he’s the most electric starter on the staff. If he can harness that early, he could be poised for a monster season. He could also be poised to receive a monster contract in free agency this winter -- though that’s not his focus.

“I don’t think about it as much as people bring it up to me,” Snell said. “I’ve really learned throughout this game to just appreciate where you’re at right now. Don’t look too far ahead. When you look too far ahead, you forget all the stuff that you could’ve really embraced. Yeah, I’ll be a free agent, but I really want to enjoy my time here right now.”

And there are few things a starting pitcher enjoys more than a Game 1 start.

“You always want to be the guy that goes first,” Snell said. “Get your team a win, put 'em in the win column right away. That’s the goal. With this team, I like our chances.”