Cronenworth injury alters picture at SS

September 11th, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- It was already one of the most daunting road trips in Padres history, and that was before they lost one of their most important players to injury not even four innings into it.

San Diego dropped its series opener at Dodger Stadium, 3-0, on Friday night, and that wasn't nearly the worst of it. Infielder exited the game with a fracture in his left ring finger, manager Jayce Tingler said, after Cronenworth was hit in the left hand by a Julio Urías changeup in the top of the third inning.

The Padres are hopeful Cronenworth will avoid a trip to the injured list, but they expect him to miss at least a few days while the swelling and inflammation subsides.

“It’s just tough to say right now until you get the inflammation out,” Tingler said. “A very small fracture there. But what we don’t know is what it’s going to be like swinging the bat and what that vibration feels like on the finger. It’s just too early to say right now.”

In 136 games this year, Cronenworth is hitting .270 with 20 home runs, while playing excellent defense across several spots in the infield. He spent most of the season at second base before taking over at shortstop when was moved to the outfield.

In Cronenworth’s absence, the Padres will have quite a decision on their hands. They moved Tatis to the outfield in the hope it might prevent further injury to his balky left shoulder. In a virtual tie with the Reds for the second National League Wild Card spot, the Padres might decide they need their superstar back at short.

“We’ve been open to Tatis back at short, so we’ll discuss,” Tingler said. “Everything is on the table with these last 22 games to go. That’s for sure.”

If, indeed, Tatis returns to his favored position, it would be a move predicated on replacing Cronenworth’s offensive production. , who replaced Cronenworth in the middle of the fourth inning on Friday, is a useful defensive piece. But since Tatis’ move to the outfield, the Padres have been forced to sit one of , and on a nightly basis.

Of course, the first priority is Tatis’ health. The Padres moved him away from shortstop in the first place in an effort to limit the possibility of another shoulder dislocation.

“We’ll discuss that, certainly, with the medical team,” Tingler said. “I will say: He’s done a really good job playing fairly under control in the outfield. He’s done a good job of shoulder maintenance -- doing his exercises pre- and postgame. If that is something that we decide to do ultimately, we’re going to feel his shoulder’s in a pretty good spot.”

There’s never a good time for an injury to an All-Star. But at this juncture, the loss of Cronenworth stings in a big way. Friday marked the start of a 10-game, three-city trip that should define the Padres' season. After they face the Dodgers this weekend, they have series in San Francisco and St. Louis against fellow playoff contenders next week.

On top of that, the Padres’ Wild Card lead is down to percentage points. With the Reds’ win in St. Louis on Friday, San Diego and Cincinnati find themselves in a virtual tie. Having played two fewer games, the Padres lead by a game in the loss column.

Right-hander wasn't the sharpest version of himself on Friday, but he battled his way through six innings of three-run ball. He was done in by a belt-high cutter left over the middle of the plate to Dodgers slugger Max Muncy. Muncy made no mistake, with a booming two-run homer to right.

“I did my job, did everything I could,” said Musgrove. “I would’ve liked to be seven scoreless. But other than the Muncy pitch, I don’t feel like I left too many hittable pitches over the plate.”

On yet another night where the San Diego offense slumped, Muncy’s homer was plenty for the Dodgers. The Padres are in dire need of thump from somewhere in their lineup. They’ve mustered just two extra-base hits in their past three games and haven’t gotten a home run since Cronenworth’s walk-off blast on Sunday against Houston.

Now, they’re facing the prospect of a lineup without Cronenworth in it during arguably the season’s most important stretch.

“It’s tough to lose that guy,” said Musgrove. “But what are we going to do? We’ve got twenty-something games left. There’s no time to pout about it. … If we want to play [in the playoffs], we’ve got to go out there and do it.

“Someone’s going to have to step up and fill that role. We’re confident in the guys that we have here that someone’s going to be able to step in.”