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Nix stumbles in finale loss to Rockies

Rookie yields 5 runs in 6-plus innings at Petco Park
September 2, 2018

SAN DIEGO -- The sequel's never as good as the original.Earlier this week, rookie right-hander Jacob Nix did not record a strikeout or a walk as he worked 8 1/3 innings in a Padres victory. On Sunday, Nix again put himself mostly at the mercy of the ball in play.

SAN DIEGO -- The sequel's never as good as the original.
Earlier this week, rookie right-hander Jacob Nix did not record a strikeout or a walk as he worked 8 1/3 innings in a Padres victory. On Sunday, Nix again put himself mostly at the mercy of the ball in play. This time, the results swung in his opponents' favor.
Nix allowed five runs on five hits over six-plus innings in a 7-3 Rockies victory at Petco Park. He struck out four (including the opposing pitcher twice) and walked two, both of which proved costly. Once again, his outing was predicated on inducing weak contact, and for most of the day, it worked.
"There's a skill set to suppressing hard contact," said Padres manager Andy Green. "He does that relatively well. ... But even then, you bring luck into play. He's going to have to strike some guys out to be successful here long-term. But he has a fastball that seems to beat barrels, and there are a lot of good things to like."

With the score tied at 3 after six innings, the seventh proved decisive. Ian Desmond led off with a single, and Gerardo Parra walked, prompting the end of Nix's afternoon after 84 pitches. Chris Iannetta followed with a two-run double off righty reliever Trey Wingenter, and Charlie Blackmon tacked on an RBI single later in the frame, giving the Rockies a 6-3 lead.
Parra's run marked the second time in as many innings that a Nix walk came around to score. In his professional career, Nix has only walked 62 hitters in 304 innings, an extraordinarily low rate.
"I take pride in not walking guys, and nothing frustrates me more than walking a guy and having him score," Nix said.
Historically, Nix's strikeout-rate is similarly low. The 22-year-old right-hander has averaged 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings in parts of four Minor League seasons. Any pitcher with low strikeout totals tends to put himself at the mercy of batted-ball luck, and Nix has just 11 Ks in 26 big league innings.
Nix knows the value of adding punchouts to his repertoire, and he's worked extensively on honing his putaway curveball, while also developing a slider. He used that slider, a new pitch, to get DJ LeMahieu in the fourth.
"There's a learning curve learning how to strike guys out at every level," said Nix, San Diego's No. 14 prospect.
The Padres are confident Nix's strikeout totals will trend upward as he acclimates to the big leagues. In the meantime, he'll rely on his ability to induce weak contact.
"It's a pitch mix that typically gets softer contact than most guys, which leads to a lower batting average on balls in play," Green said. "That'll work in his favor as he continues to learn how to strike guys out."
Nix put it a different way.
"Strikeouts are sexy," he said. "Ground balls aren't sexy. [The strikeouts] are coming. They'll get there."

HOT CORNER
The Rockies tied the game against Nix in the sixth inning when Trevor Story singled home LeMahieu with two outs. But the Padres could've escaped one batter earlier. Nolan Arenado smashed a grounder to his counterpart at third base. William Myers juggled it, erasing any chance at a double play, and he got the out at first base instead.
It's been three weeks since the Padres began to experiment with Myers as a third baseman. They're hopeful he can become a versatile roster piece who can slide back-and-forth between third and the outfield. Myers was mostly solid early, but he's experienced some struggles recently.
Perhaps that was to be expected. Myers hadn't played third base with any regularity since he was a Minor Leaguer in the Royals system in 2012. It's one of the sport's toughest defensive positions, and Myers could certainly use an offseason's worth of work at the hot corner.
TROUBLE WITH THE BUNT
The Padres twice asked Nix to bunt with A.J. Ellis on first base on Sunday afternoon. Both times he failed in his sacrifice attempt and struck out. Both times Ellis was stranded.
After the game, Green expressed disappointment with his pitchers' inability to bunt when called upon. But he noted that the issue wasn't as simple as a failure to execute. Pitchers don't hit in games until Double-A, and even then they only do so in games between National League affiliates.
In Nix's case -- as with Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer -- he was pushed quickly through the upper levels of the Padres' system before his debut. The three of them combined for 17 Minor League at-bats -- and zero sacrifices.
"These guys didn't get 30-40 at-bats and multiple years of batting practice," Green said. "We have to find a way to make it more important in A-ball for these guys that are on an accelerated path. Even though they're not hitting in A-ball, they've got to start handling the bat, because it costs us in the long run. … We've got to hasten that process for some of our guys."
SOUND SMART
Franmil Reyes' two-run single in the first inning marked the rare occasion in which Reyes drove in runs without doing so via the long ball. The rookie right fielder has 19 RBIs this season. Fifteen have come from his 13 dingers. In fact, Reyes' single was only his second RBI hit of the season which wasn't a homer. He plated two with a double against the Brewers on Aug. 7.

UP NEXT
The Padres head to Arizona for a two-game set against the D-backs, beginning Monday at 5:10 p.m. PT. Right-hander Bryan Mitchell was activated from the disabled list Saturday, and he'll start the opener. Mitchell could be pitching for his long-term place after struggling mightily in the season's first two months. He posted a 7.08 ERA in 12 appearances before landing on the DL with a right-elbow impingement.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.