Tatis homers where few right-handers can

July 29th, 2020

It's only the first week of the 2020 baseball season, and is already making the extraordinary seem routine.

In the third inning of the Padres’ 5-3 victory over the Giants on Tuesday night, Tatis got a knee-high fastball from Jeff Samardzija and sent it where very few right-handed hitters ever visit -- the right-field porch at Oracle Park.

On the sliding scale of “crazy things Tatis does,” this one probably didn’t move the needle much. Remember, Tatis is the type of player who tags and scores on infield popups and escapes rundowns with matrix-esque slides. On Monday, he decided on a whim to come to the plate with no batting gloves and smashed a rocket triple to left-center field.

In truth, power is probably the most mundane of Tatis’ five tools. But he’s still got plenty of it. Since Statcast began tracking, Tatis is just the third righty-hitting Padres player to homer to right field at Oracle Park.

Said Padres manager Jayce Tingler: “Just to hit a ball oppo like that, have that type of carry -- I’ve been around him long enough that it’s not a surprise. He can do so many things on the field. To barrel it up and go oppo with the wind blowing here ... that got us going.”

Tatis’ homer turned an early Padres deficit into a 3-1 lead. followed suit an inning later with a two-run shot. With the win, the Padres improved to 4-1, tied with the Cubs for the best record in the National League.

"He’s an impressive hitter,” Samardzija said of Tatis. “You have to be careful with him. It wasn’t like we were out there throwing him some stuff. We definitely knew with him in the leadoff spot, it was going to be a key at-bat. He won that round."

Tatis, who already has four extra-base hits and a .409 on-base percentage, is picking up where he left off last August when his rookie season ended prematurely. 

He was shut down with a lower-back injury, and it’s no coincidence that the Padres began their freefall shortly thereafter. The consensus in the San Diego clubhouse is that Tatis, even at 21, is the team’s leader on offense.

“Everybody knows he’s a great player,” Myers said. “But the big thing is the energy, the havoc that he causes on the bases. That’s something the team really feeds on. That’s a really big deal for any offense to have that sparkplug at the top.”

Of course, Myers knows a thing or two about hitting right-handed dingers at Oracle Park. Since the start of the 2017 season, his nine home runs there are fourth among all righty hitters, including Giants.

Padres right-hander worked five-plus solid frames, allowing three runs (two earned), while striking out five without allowing a walk. In their first trip through the rotation, San Diego starters have combined for a 1.82 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning.

“You want to follow that up,” Davies said. “It was an impressive first four games.”

In a surprise move, Tingler called on lefty to work the ninth inning, instead of Kirby Yates. Yates had thrown 28 laborious pitches on Sunday, and the Padres determined before the game that they’d give their closer an extra day of rest, considering a schedule in which they play 30 games in 31 days to open the season.

Pomeranz, who signed a four-year contract with the Padres during the offseason, rose to the challenge. He struck out the side in the ninth, including a biting curveball that caught Darin Ruf looking to end the game, giving the Padres their best start since 1997.

“It’s a lot of fun right now,” Myers said. “We’ve got a great team, and everything’s clicking.”

Everything’s clicking, and in a lot of ways, Tatis is the one who makes it click. Tingler was asked when he realized what Tatis is capable of. The rookie manager, who spent more than a decade in the Rangers organization, said he knew well before he arrived in San Diego.

“I got to see him when I was in the third-base coaching box when I was in the Don Welke Classic game,” said Tingler, referring to the annual showcase between Rangers and Padres prospects at Petco Park. “And I knew. You just saw it from one night. ... I felt like I had a pretty good feeling of what type of player he was going to be.”

One night, that’s usually all it takes.