Tatis Jr. fuels offense, dazzles on defense
Padres shortstop pairs with 2B Urias for jaw-dropping double plays
SAN DIEGO -- Los niños are all right.
With Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop and Luis Urías at second, the Padres envision a bright future in the middle of the diamond. They’ve dreamed of nights like this one for a long time.
Tatis and Urias -- who ascended the prospect ranks together, styling themselves as “los niños” or “the kids” -- took center stage at Petco Park on Thursday as the Padres rolled to a 9-3 victory over the Rockies. The two rookies have never been more dazzling together than the brilliant double play they turned to end the fourth.
Colorado pitcher Jon Gray hit a grounder to Urias’ right. The 22-year-old second baseman made a diving stop and flipped to Tatis with his glove. Tatis, needing to hurry, stretched and snared the ball with his bare hand before firing a strike to Eric Hosmer at first.
“We're just some kids playing out there,” Tatis said.
Tatis also went 2-for-5 and launched his sixth leadoff homer to eclipse Will Venable’s single-season club record from 2011. Tatis needs just four more to tie Venable for the all-time franchise mark. The 20-year-old phenom made several excellent solo plays at shortstop, as well.
Since his arrival in the big leagues, Tatis has been practically unstoppable. He’s a strong contender for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, and he’s on pace to grace the league leaderboards at some point next week. As things stand right now, he would rank third in the NL in average (.326), ninth in on-base percentage (.387) and second in slugging (.607).
“He’s good,” said Padres manager Andy Green, breaking into a wry grin.
That's quite the understatement.
But Urias’ transition to the big leagues hasn’t been nearly as smooth. He entered the season as the Padres’ second-ranked hitting prospect, behind only Tatis. Through 27 games, he’s batting just .143 (albeit with a .318 OBP).
On Thursday night, however, Urias joined the fun, going 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs. He ripped a double into the left-field corner in the second inning. Then, in the sixth, his grounder to short became the error that plated the go-ahead run.
“Tatis coming up here and having the success he's having now, I think it's going to help Luis a lot, make him feel comfortable,” said Hosmer. “You can already see the plays they're making up the middle together. It's fun watching those two work.”
Padres lefty Eric Lauer was tagged for 10 hits over four-plus innings, but he managed to keep things close before San Diego broke a tie with a five-run sixth. Both Urias and Tatis reached on errors that would’ve ended the frame, before Wil Myers roped a decisive two-run double to left field.
If not for the Padres’ brilliant defense in the fourth, they probably wouldn’t have found themselves in that spot. Ryan McMahon, Yonathan Daza and Tony Wolters opened the frame with consecutive singles. But right fielder Hunter Renfroe nailed McMahon at the plate with his 12th assist of the season, tying Leury Garcia for the Major League lead.
Gray was next, and the Rockies right-hander squared to bunt but pulled his bat back to swing instead. He sent a two-hopper in Urias’ direction, and the Padres’ middle-infield magic ensued from there.
“It's going to continue to grow the longer those guys play up the middle together,” Hosmer said. “You're going to see plays where they just know where each other is on the field at all times. It's instinctual stuff. They're just used to playing with each other. There's no other way to get that than by reps in the game.”
As Hosmer corralled the throw, Tatis turned to high-five Urias. The two trotted off the field together as the fans at Petco Park roared their approval.
“What can I say?” Tatis asked. “We're best friends since the Minor Leagues. Here we are now, doing it right here.”
And they might be doing it for a while.