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Padres keep it going with strong start

@AJCassavell
March 30, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres’ starting pitchers heard it all spring: They were supposed to be the weakness on this revamped roster. They were supposed to hold back a team with a potent lineup, an excellent defense and a deep bullpen. They heard it. And they have other ideas. The

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres’ starting pitchers heard it all spring: They were supposed to be the weakness on this revamped roster. They were supposed to hold back a team with a potent lineup, an excellent defense and a deep bullpen.

They heard it. And they have other ideas.

The Padres beat the Giants, 4-1, on Friday night, and in the process, they set a franchise record with 17 scoreless innings to start the season. San Diego has seen its share of excellent pitching staffs over the years, but none has ever started a season as flawlessly as this one.

“Whatever the outside world has thought, we haven't really cared at all,” said Padres manager Andy Green. “We like these young guys. We’re proud of the group we have, and we’re confident in the group we have.”

On Friday, it was left-hander Joey Lucchesi proving the rotation’s critics wrong. He worked 5 1/3 excellent frames, striking out seven while allowing only three hits. That came on the heels of six shutout innings from Eric Lauer, Lucchesi’s roommate and fellow southpaw, on Thursday.

A year ago, neither Lauer nor Lucchesi had cracked the big leagues. Now, they’re the first starting tandem in Padres history to pitch scoreless ball in each of the season’s first two games.

“We see everything being put out about how our rotation is the soft point of our team,” Lauer said. “To us: Nah, we want to be the rock. Every time we go out there, we have something to prove -- that we're the real deal, too.”

It’s only two games, of course, and the biggest questions loom at the back of the rotation. Lauer and Lucchesi have hardly silenced the doubters themselves. But they clearly aren’t content to rest on their middling rookie campaigns in 2018.

“They held their own last year, but they know they're better than what they did,” said pitching coach Darren Balsley. “They want to prove it.”

To be sure, the offense did its part Friday. Fernando Tatis Jr. came inches from his first home run in the second inning. He settled for a double and scored his first big league run when Manuel Margot followed with a two-run single. Ian Kinsler went deep an inning later, and Manny Machado’s first Padres hit was part of a run-scoring rally in the fifth. He finished 2-for-4.

But the offense was never much of a question. The pitching staff -- specifically, the rotation -- was.

Through two games, the Padres have had all the answers.

“He brings it every day”

Tatis didn’t mind missing out on his first big league dinger.

“Just glad I was on base,” said the Padres’ 20-year-old top prospect.

Plus, he got to show off his wheels on Margot’s single, getting from second to home in a speedy 6.65 seconds. An animated Tatis slid across home plate, popped up and let out a yell before high-fiving Eric Hosmer.

“I show my emotions,” Tatis said with a grin. “That’s how I was feeling so I’m going to show it.”

Tatis, who went 1-for-3 with a walk, made a savvy defensive play in the top of the third, as well. Erik Kratz hit a grounder to his right, and Tatis made a snap decision to throw to Machado at third base. Machado applied the tag, cutting down an over-aggressive Steven Duggar.

Count Machado among those impressed with the early returns on Tatis, who became the youngest player to start an Opening Day game in 20 years on Thursday.

“He brings it every day,” Machado said. “That’s what you need on your ballclub. When someone goes out there and hustles 100 percent, leaves it all on the field, everybody else in here is feeding off of that energy.”

Trouble in the ninth

The Padres had their scoreless streak snapped in the ninth inning when Evan Longoria crushed a long home run off right-hander Phil Maton. Closer Kirby Yates followed by loading the bases with one out.

Yates pitched a perfect ninth on Thursday, but he clearly didn’t have his best stuff Friday. So Green gave his bullpen a ring, asking Craig Stammen to get loose.

“That’s classic,” Green said. “As soon as you get Craig up, Kirby settles in. That’s how it goes.”

Sure enough, Yates struck out Gerardo Parra and Brandon Belt, both looking, to end the game. He got some help from catcher Austin Hedges with two expert frame jobs.

The Giants protested. The Padres, meanwhile, have nothing to complain about. They’re 2-0 for the first time in eight years.

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