Pitchers really can’t throw a strike to Fernando Tatis Jr., can they?
Tatis went into Monday with an .842 slugging percentage on in-zone pitches, the third-highest mark in the Majors among qualified hitters. Basically, if pitchers throw Tatis a pitch in the strike zone, there’s more than a good chance he will make them pay.
Despite the Padres’ 7-2 loss to the Cubs, Tatis proved that to be true once again.
Facing Chicago reliever Keegan Thompson -- who had not allowed an earned run in 15 consecutive innings to start his big league career -- in the sixth inning, Tatis got a 1-1 fastball outside. Tatis -- who’d been slugging .875 this season on pitches on the outside part of the plate in 2021 -- didn’t let this one go to waste, nearly hitting the ball out of Wrigley Field and moving into a tie atop the Majors with his 16th home run of the year.
“He's electric,” said Padres starter Chris Paddack, who lasted just 4 1/3 innings and took his fourth loss of the season. “I think I said it [at the] beginning of the season, or even last year: I'm glad he's on our team. He's definitely kind of a spark plug for our offense, but he's just exciting to watch, man. He literally plays the game with so much energy, and I mean, his stats speak for itself.”
The solo shot added some brawn to the brains Tatis displayed earlier in the game, when he led off the fourth inning with a walk and used some trickery to make it to second base on an Eric Hosmer ground ball.
Cubs shortstop Javier Báez had shifted to the right side of second for the at-bat and scooped up Hosmer’s grounder. Tatis avoided running into the tag by retreating a few steps back toward first, then took off for second as Báez threw out Hosmer. Knowing the forceout was no longer in play, Tatis maneuvered his leg around Eric Sogard’s glove at second base and stepped on the bag before Sogard could apply the tag.
“Between him and probably Báez with the other team, they've kind of ran a couple highlight videos of baserunning, and that was one of the plays that [Tatis] somehow matrixes in there,” manager Jayce Tingler said.
Tatis’ 1-for-3 day extended what has been an explosive couple of weeks for the young phenom at the plate.
Over his last 13 games, Tatis is hitting .435 with eight home runs, 25 RBIs and 17 runs. With one RBI on Monday, Tatis fell just short of Ken Caminiti’s franchise record for most RBIs in a 13-game span (26), set from Aug. 16-30, 1996.
“For the last couple of weeks, he's really been in control. Certainly in the box,” Tingler said. “He's having great balance and he's making great decisions at the plate with the pitches he's swinging at. He is barreling up stuff and letting his talent play.
“And so what does that do? You feel you're never out of the game.”
Tatis’ heroics weren’t enough to save the Padres, as San Diego pitchers allowed five home runs in the loss. The Padres fell short of finishing a calendar month with 20 wins for just the second time in franchise history, and they now sit a game back of the Rays for the best record in the Majors.
But even amid a sour end to the month, Tatis continued to stake his claim to be named the National League Most Valuable Player by the end of the year.
“We have really good leadership on this team, especially the older guys,” Paddack said. “But obviously, Tati, whenever he's performing well, it's usually in clutch situations or big situations, so it's always fun to watch."