Long before Francisco Mejia was traded, the Padres' front office had already zeroed in on the 22-year-old backstop. They loved his bat, and they felt he could star behind the plate, too. But the game's top catching prospect wouldn't come cheap.In late July, they struck a deal, with relievers Brad
Long before Francisco Mejia was traded, the Padres' front office had already zeroed in on the 22-year-old backstop. They loved his bat, and they felt he could star behind the plate, too. But the game's top catching prospect wouldn't come cheap.
In late July, they struck a deal, with relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber going to Cleveland. San Diego had its man. And one start into Mejia's Padres tenure, it's easy to see why the club was so enamored with him in the first place.
Mejia homered in his each of his first two plate appearances on Thursday in a 6-2 San Diego victory in Cincinnati. He became the first Padres hitter in franchise history to go deep in the first two at-bats of his first start with San Diego.
"It was emotional," said Mejia, who was promoted Tuesday and struck out in a pinch-hit at-bat that night in Arizona. "Every time I go to the plate, I'm just looking for a good pitch that I can drive."
He got two of them on Thursday night.
Mejia smashed a 96-mph fastball over the left-center-field wall in the third, giving San Diego an early lead. Then he showed off his elite bat speed, golfing a three-run homer to right field in the fourth. It put the Padres on top, 5-0, after Hunter Renfroe had gone deep earlier in the frame.
"Obviously, [it was] impressive," Padres manager Andy Green said of Mejia. "Good swings, loud contact both ways. They tried to get two fastballs by him."
Not since Yasmani Grandal -- another switch-hitting catcher -- had a Padres rookie hit the first two homers of his career in his first start with the team. Grandal did so on June 30, 2012, against Colorado.
Mejia recorded 18 plate appearances with the Indians before he was dealt, but he hadn't homered. He became the first player since Cody Bellinger in April 2017 to launch the first two home runs of his career in consecutive at-bats.
Not to be lost in the shuffle, Mejia caught an excellent game behind the plate, as well. He'd only worked with rookie left-hander Eric Lauer once (on Lauer's rehab assignment with Triple-A El Paso on Aug. 24). But Lauer pitched four scoreless frames.
With eight strikeouts and three walks, Lauer ran his pitch count a bit high and was removed after 86 pitches. Robert Stock, Jose Castillo, Craig Stammen and Kirby Yates all worked scoreless relief innings, though Trey Wingenter surrendered two solo home runs in the seventh.
"Across the board, great game," Green said of Mejia. "He's still developing as a catcher. He's got really good hands."
TIMESHARE BEHIND THE DISH
The Padres haven't been shy about addressing their conundrum behind the plate. They already have Austin Hedges, who's 26 and widely regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in the game.
San Diego contends there's room for both, and for the remainder of the season, Mejia and Hedges will split time relatively evenly. Green even hinted that Hedges might start the second game of the series on Friday night.
"I feel good about it," Mejia said. "I've heard only positive stuff, that we're going to be in a rotation, and they've explained all of that to me."
Mejia could see some time in the outfield, as well, though that's unlikely to happen this season. For now, it's the proverbial "good problem to have" -- especially on nights like Thursday.
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MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Travis Jankowski swiped his 22nd bag of the season in the fifth inning with a steal that survived a lengthy replay review. Jankowski ran on Reds starter Luis Castillo's 1-0 swinging strike to Luis Urias. Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart's throw to second was slightly high -- second baseman Dilson Herrera had to reach up to grab it, and couldn't get his hand down for the tag quick enough as Jankowski slid safely. The Reds challenged, and the call stood after review.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Renfroe's robbery: The Reds threatened to work their way back into the game against Lauer in the fourth, but Renfroe had other ideas. Lauer loaded the bases with no outs, but he whiffed Phillip Ervin and Scott Schebler, bringing Herrera to the plate.
Herrera smashed a liner to left field, but Renfroe broke quickly toward the corner. As the baseball arrived, he made an sprawling dive and a snow-cone catch in an all-or-nothing situation.
"The play of the game for me," Green said. "That's three runs right there in the fourth inning. He's settled in really nicely in left field."
Mejia's homers came against fastballs from Castillo that were clocked at 96.3 and 97.4 mph, respectively. Mejia became only the third player in the Majors this season to hit multiple home runs in a game off pitches thrown 96 mph or harder. (The Rockies' Ian Desmond and Yankees' Brett Gardner were the others to do so.) Mejia's second home run marked the fastest pitch that a Padres hitter has homered against this season.
Brett Kennedy is coming off his best start in the Majors, during which he blanked the Rockies over six innings last week. The rookie right-hander is competing for a long-term spot in the Padres' rotation, and he still has plenty to prove after posting a 5.76 ERA in his first five big league starts. Kennedy starts on Friday at 3:40 p.m. PT against Reds right-hander Anthony DeSclafani.
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.