ATLANTA -- Need a reminder why -- despite the ups and downs, despite the inconsistency -- the Padres continue to put their faith in a Chris Paddack turnaround?
Starts like Wednesday afternoon in Atlanta -- that’s why.
Paddack pitched five scoreless innings in the Padres’ 3-2 victory over the Braves in Game 1 of a split doubleheader at Truist Park. He was efficient and attacked the strike zone, keeping a solid Atlanta lineup off balance, allowing only three singles.
This was precisely the version of Paddack that the Padres envision as an integral part of their rotation. The question -- same as it ever was -- is how they can get this version of Paddack more consistently.
“I’m not trying to get ahead of myself here,” Paddack said. “We did a lot of great things today. But there’s still some improvements. … There’s always something you’re going to learn. There’s always something you’ve got to grow on.”
To that end, one start in mid-July doesn’t offer answers. In three of Paddack’s previous four starts, he’d allowed at least four runs. In two of those starts, he didn’t make it through the third inning. If Paddack is going to be a key contributor down the stretch -- if he wants to pitch his way into the team’s playoff plans -- he’ll need to make starts like this one the norm.
That inconsistency from Paddack and a couple other members of the Padres’ rotation is the biggest reason the Padres enter next week’s Trade Deadline in pursuit of starting pitching, which Paddack says is just fine with him.
“It’s always weird, the last week or two before the Trade Deadline,” Paddack said. “But we can’t control what happens at the top like that. Whoever it is, if we do trade for somebody, obviously it’s going to be for somebody good. … I guess we’ll see what happens in the next week or two.”
If the Padres were to acquire another starting pitcher, it would be partly with an eye on their potential playoff rotation. Paddack is currently on the fringe of that. But with a few more starts like Wednesday’s, Paddack -- trade or no trade -- would be squarely in the mix.
And, sure, Paddack only turned in five innings. But that was no fault of his own. In a seven-inning game, the situation changed. When Paddack’s spot came up in the top of the sixth inning with two men aboard, manager Jayce Tingler took a shot at blowing the game open, calling for Trent Grisham as a pinch-hitter.
“Yeah, I want the DH, man,” Paddack quipped afterward.
“If it was a nine-inning game, it would’ve definitely been a different story,” Tingler said. “I almost treated it like it was the seventh, and if his spot didn’t come up there, he was probably going back out for the sixth.”
Grisham flied out, but the Padres had their two best relievers, Drew Pomeranz and Mark Melancon, to slam the door.
Bench pieces step up
There are more pressing areas of need -- namely the rotation, the bullpen and possibly even a starting-caliber bat.
But with eight days remaining until the July 30 Trade Deadline, the Padres’ front office will also evaluate upgrades for its bench. On Wednesday, they got a worthwhile reminder: There are some pretty solid internal options already on board.
Facing Braves left-hander Kyle Muller in Game 1, lefty bats Eric Hosmer and Grisham were given a breather. With Ha-Seong Kim and Jurickson Profar inserted into the lineup in their place, the Padres didn’t miss a beat.
“Both of them played outstanding today,” Tingler said. “We’ve got two today and then four on the road in Miami, so we’re trying to get a couple of the guys down so we’re as fresh as we can be. But for Kim and Profar to step up offensively and defensively -- both of those guys played a good game today.”
Kim made a handful of excellent defensive plays at second base, including a diving stop on a Dansby Swanson one-hopper to save a run. He also plated Profar for the game’s first run with a sacrifice fly. Profar had two hits and made an excellent diving catch in the fifth inning.
Could the Padres still use another bench piece? Perhaps a lefty hitter with a bit of pop? Sure. But their in-house options have proven themselves capable, as well.
Another for Tatis
With the Padres leading, 1-0, in the top of the fifth inning, Fernando Tatis Jr. launched his 29th home run of the season, a two-run missile into the left-center-field seats. Tatis continues to lead the NL in both home runs and steals and could become the first player to lead his league in both categories since Philadelphia’s Chuck Klein in 1932.
More immediately: Tatis’ 29th homer was also his 28th as a shortstop. (He hit one as a designated hitter.) Those 28 home runs by a shortstop are the most in a single season in franchise history, passing Khalil Greene’s 27 in 2007.
Tatis now has 29 homers through 79 games played this season, the most homers by any player at age 22 or younger in his first 79 games of a season.