When the Padres entered the offseason last October, they knew Dinelson Lamet's availability for the 2021 season might be tenuous. The right-hander was coming off the best season of his career, in which he finished fourth in National League Cy Young Award voting. But he was also coming off a UCL strain in his right elbow that forced him to miss the postseason and to receive a platelet-rich plasma injection.
The Padres hoped for the best while preparing for the worst. They built a deep rotation full of aces -- one that could potentially withstand the loss of arguably its most electric arm.
But that rotation sure would look good with a Dinelson Lamet healthy and thriving, wouldn't it?
Lamet and the Padres are still shooting for that goal. Despite a setback in his first start, Lamet is on track to return to the rotation shortly, possibly as soon as Sunday against the Giants at Petco Park, Padres manager Jayce Tingler said.
"He was pretty aggressive with his bullpen today," Tingler said on Wednesday. "He was letting it rip, all his pitches. What you want to see is how he looks the next day and the day after and how his arm and everything is responding. He's looking the part. You never really know until you get out there and you've got to do it in game action. ... But it seems to be pretty encouraging right now."
Sunday would mark the first day Lamet is eligible to come off the 10-day injured list -- where he landed after leaving his April 21 season debut with right forearm tightness. Lamet's early exit was undeniably concerning, but tests done after that outing revealed no structural damage, the Padres said. Lamet did not undergo an MRI.
That setback was the first Lamet had experienced throughout his entire rehab process. Sources said Lamet indicated that the forearm tightness was relatively minor and felt unlike anything he'd experienced from his UCL injury last September.
The Padres placed Lamet on the IL. But they didn't exactly curb his progression. He played catch as scheduled over the weekend and reported no lingering effects. On Wednesday, he threw an extensive 30-pitch bullpen session.
"Today was a good day for him," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "What that means? We'll see tomorrow. You take it one day at a time with guys that are going through that. But the best thing about today was at the end. He said: 'I felt like myself.'"
Lamet, 28, won't be able to escape the question marks any time soon. The reality is this: Doctors told Lamet that shutting down last season would help him avoid Tommy John surgery. But in his first start back -- after a very slow and measured build-up -- he experienced forearm trouble. Generally speaking, that doesn't bode well.
But the Padres have come to the conclusion that last week’s injury wasn't the Tommy John deathblow it might have seemed to some on the outside. There's still reason for optimism, they say. Now, it's time to turn Lamet loose and find out once and for all.
"He's fully built up," Rothschild said. "We tried to check all the boxes to make sure he was covered, as far as getting ready and not rushed. We really took a lot of time and care, trying to get him through this.
"There's no longer a rehab process. He's done just about everything he can do. So we've got to see now. Let's get after it, see what happens."
• Padres right fielder Wil Myers was a late scratch from the starting lineup on Wednesday, replaced by Jorge Mateo, batting fifth. The team said Myers was held out, "for precautionary reasons due to a contact tracing process. He has since been cleared." Myers was available during the game after he was cleared.
• Left fielder Tommy Pham was out of the starting lineup for a second straight game after exiting Sunday's game against the Dodgers with a left calf strain. But Pham took batting practice on Wednesday, and Tingler said he'd likely be available to pinch-hit.
• Right-hander Keone Kela also threw an aggressive bullpen session on Wednesday as he works his way back from right shoulder tightness. Kela, like Lamet, is eligible to come off the IL on Sunday.