SAN DIEGO -- Blink at your own peril. You're liable to miss something spectacular from Fernando Tatis Jr.
Even on Monday -- when the Padres endured one of their most lopsided defeats this season, a 13-2 drubbing at the hands of the last-place Giants -- Tatis made it a memorable night at Petco Park.
In the span of a few innings, the rookie phenom uncorked the hardest throw by a shortstop this season, then he scored on a popup to second base.
He’s doing things most big league ballplayers can’t dream of doing. And he’s making them seem routine.
“He’s special,” said Padres manager Andy Green, for the thousandth time.
“He’s all that’s been advertised, probably even more,” added Giants skipper Bruce Bochy. “He’s got everything.”
Tatis isn’t an All-Star, almost certainly because he missed a month due to a hamstring injury. But there’s little doubt the 20-year-old rookie is already one of the game’s most exciting players.
In fact, there’s a case Tatis should be headed to Cleveland next week anyway. The Padres have certainly been vocal in their belief that he’s All-Star worthy. Tatis is hitting .337/.405/.613 this season, not to mention the spectacular defense and baserunning.
Entering play Monday, Tatis was worth 3 wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference. That tied him for ninth among National League position players. Everyone above him on that list has played at least 23 more games.
Tatis’ first moment of brilliance on Monday came in the top of the second inning when Kevin Pillar hit a two-hopper to his right. The rangy shortstop slid and made a backhanded snare. He rose to his feet and fired a 94 mph rocket that first baseman Eric Hosmer picked.
“I've seen it so many times, that's the kind of stuff you expect,” said starter Logan Allen, who was hit hard for six runs in four-plus innings. “The guy's unbelievable. He's the best shortstop in the game.”
Even for Tatis -- who also owns the second-, third- and fourth-hardest shortstop throws recorded by Statcast this year -- the throw was a missile. (Rounding out the top five is a 92 mph laser from Manny Machado, when Tatis was on the injured list in May.)
Four innings later, Tatis tripled into the right-center-field gap and even briefly considered breaking for home after a popup slide into third base.
“We threw a cutter away and he stayed on it for a triple,” said Giants starter Jeff Samardzija, who stifled the Padres offense for most of the night. “He can hit. It’s just a matter of keeping him off the bases, because his speed creates problems.”
Does it ever. Two batters later, Machado lofted a high pop behind second base. Joe Panik settled under it, flat-footed, and made the catch. Tatis broke for home, and when Panik’s throw sailed slightly up the line, he slid in safely.
“He saw the outfielder didn't call off the second baseman, and he took off,” said first-base coach Skip Schumaker, who works with the team’s baserunners. “Guys just don't do that. He has no hesitation that he'll make the right read, and he's made the right read every time so far. That's pretty impressive for a guy who's 20.”
The craziest part? It all felt normal. The Padres didn’t spring from the top step of the dugout to greet him. Tatis had done the same thing eight days ago in Pittsburgh, after all. On Sunday, he scored from first base on an Eric Hosmer single.
Only six other players in the Majors have scored on a popup to an infielder this year. Per Elias, Tatis is the first player in Padres history to do so twice in the same season, and he’s the first in the Majors since Drew Stubbs in 2013.
“I’d hesitate to find another person in the game that changes the game on the bases the way he does,” Green said on Sunday.
Added Schumaker: “You can't teach this stuff. I wish I could. I think he's just been around the game for so long. He takes pride in his baserunning. It's kind of a lost art.”