SAN DIEGO -- Fernando Tatis Jr. is back, and -- gulp -- better than ever.
The Padres’ star shortstop returned from the injured list on Wednesday, and just hasn’t stopped hitting. After he went 4-for-4 with a homer in his first game back, Tatis followed by launching the 50th blast of his career in the Padres’ 16-1 demolition of the Mariners on Friday night.
Trent Grisham and Jake Cronenworth also went deep as the Padres moved into a first-place tie in the National League West with their seventh straight win. The Padres’ 16 runs were their most at Petco Park since 2010, and their 15-run victory tied the largest margin of victory in the ballpark’s history.
Tatis went 2-for-4 with four RBIs, and his second-inning homer made him the fastest player in Padres history to reach 50 home runs. He took only 171 games to do so while also becoming the fastest shortstop in Major League history to reach the 50 mark.
The Padres already led by three runs when Tatis came to the plate with two men aboard in the second inning. Chris Flexen tried to sneak a cutter by Tatis on the outside corner. Tatis was having none of it. Among the many patently ridiculous Fernando Tatis Jr. traits, his opposite-field power ranks near the top. He sent a no-doubter to right field, a projected 393 feet, off his bat at 105.8 mph, per Statcast.
“He hits those balls to right-center and to right field, it feels like they come off [the bat] like a left-handed pull hitter with power,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “It’s just short movements, nice and easy. He’s not trying to grab the power. He’s getting barrel to it, and then his natural ability plays.”
Tatis punctuated the home run with his usual bat-flipping flair. (Even by Tatis’ lofty bat-flipping standards, this was a good one -- he took a few steps toward first, turned the bat over in his hand and flipped from the barrel.)
Indeed, Tatis made certain to celebrate No. 50 with style. He’s tied with Ryan Braun for the fifth fastest to reach 50 homers, in terms of number of games. Only Pete Alonso (152 games), Rudy York (153), Gary Sánchez (161) and Mark McGwire (161) got there faster.
Tatis' home run set the tone for a laugher on Friday night. The Padres cruised behind six innings of one-run ball from Chris Paddack, whose recent resurgence is an extremely positive development in San Diego. The rotation is already one of the best in baseball, and a thriving Paddack in the No. 4 spot makes it even scarier.
In three starts since returning from the injured list, Paddack has allowed only two runs. Lately, the right-hander has looked an awful lot like the dominant 2019 version of himself. His fastball is the biggest reason why.
“Just getting back to that attitude of, ‘Here’s my fastball, good luck’ -- I really think that’s been a huge accomplishment for me,” Paddack said.
The Padres gave Paddack plenty of run support. Grisham started the night with his fourth career leadoff homer, and the Padres plated three more in the first. The second inning was another four-run frame for the Friars, who chased Flexen after 1 2/3 innings. It's a distinctly different San Diego offense from the one that opened the season in a rut, with question marks about where all the home runs had gone.
“I think we were due,” Tingler said. “It starts with a group of talented players. … You’re not going to keep a group of talented, very good hitters down for very long.”
The Padres were without slugging third baseman Manny Machado on Friday night, with Tingler noting that he was banged up but refusing to go into any specifics. Grisham also exited the game early, because of what Tingler called “lower-half stuff” and “a little bit of a heel bruise.” Both are questionable for Saturday.
But lately, no matter how the Padres fill out their lineup card, they’re scoring runs in bunches. That dates back to before Tatis was launching homers to all parts of the yard. Tatis tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago, and he spent nine days on the IL.
With Tatis (and others) out, the Padres found a groove with Grisham, Machado and Cronenworth hitting 1-2-3 in the lineup. When Tatis -- who almost always hit first or second for the Padres -- returned, he was reinserted into the cleanup spot. He’s now 6-for-8 with a pair of dingers and a pair of bat flips while hitting fourth. So far so good.
“He’s a special player,” Tingler said. “There’s very few guys you’re around over time that can take a little bit of time down and truly not miss a beat. That’s how it looks for him right now.”