Notes: Machado on shifts; Almonte called up

August 4th, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- has spent his entire career dazzling on the left side of the infield. He's racked up two Gold Gloves at third base and was excellent at shortstop for parts of two seasons in Baltimore and Los Angeles.

But in 2020, Machado is taking on a new challenge: part-time shallow right fielder.

The Padres have begun to employ Machado deep behind second base when they shift this season -- a stark change from 2019, when Machado slid to shortstop and the team’s second baseman dropped deep.

Their thinking is simple: Machado has an elite defensive skill set, so why not try to maximize it?

“The design is to put guys that are really good with their ball security in hot lanes where, hopefully, the ball is going,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said before the season.

That’s a philosophy Machado can get on board with.

"It's about getting 27 outs," he said. "And if I can steal a couple back there, that'll be good for the team.”

Machado should get his chance to steal a few outs this week, considering the opponent. The Padres will send three right-handers to the hill against the Dodgers, who are likely to counter by loading their lineup with lefty pull hitters.

As such, Machado will be called upon to take hits away from Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson and Corey Seager. All four were among Dodgers manager Dave Roberts' first six hitters in Monday’s lineup. Machado knows he’s going to have an active week.

"It's definitely a long jog between pitches sometimes," he quipped with a wry grin. "It kinda sucks, especially in Denver, when you're a little out of breath in the altitude. But it's good. Nowadays, with analytics and the shifting and the lefties who always hit into the shift, I can get out there and make some plays."

Almonte promoted

The Padres selected the contract of outfielder on Monday, and he was in the lineup batting seventh and serving as designated hitter for the series opener against the Dodgers. Almonte is a switch-hitter, and the Padres were looking for a capable lefty bat with Eric Hosmer on the injured list.

Almonte was a non-roster invitee to Padres Spring Training, and he was mostly sharp there. But he wasn't initially a member of the team's Summer Camp player pool, so his buildup to the season was delayed by a couple weeks.

"Abe coming out of Spring Training was probably on this team, and then all the COVID things happened," said Tingler. "We feel good where he's at and excited to get his bat in the lineup tonight."

In a corresponding move, right-hander was optioned to the team's alternate site. Eickhoff had been added to the roster on Sunday after Hosmer was placed on the IL. But Eickhoff was always a temporary addition, because he was travelling with the team on the taxi squad, while Almonte remained at the alternate site receiving regular at-bats in intrasquad and simulated games.

Options at first
Suddenly, is a big league first baseman -- a surprise development, considering the Padres' rookie utility man played just one game at first base in the Minor Leagues. (It certainly surprised Cronenworth, who has been using Ty France's first-base glove because he said his is buried somewhere in a box at his parents' house.)

But the Padres' rookie utility man has done nothing but increase his value with his performance at first in the absence of Hosmer. Entering play Monday, Cronenworth was 4-for-10 this season with three extra-base hits.

"It's no secret Jake's played well," Tingler said. "If he continues to play well, he's going to get more and more opportunities. ... Look for him to grow over there at first with more experience."

Cronenworth was viewed mostly as a throw-in in the trade that sent Tommy Pham to San Diego in December. He was a two-way player in Tampa Bay, and the Padres experimented with him on the mound during Spring Training.

But in a shortened season in which there's no limit on the size of the Padres' pitching staff, the team has asked him to focus solely on his utility infield role this year. Cronenworth is capable of playing all four infield spots, and he's proven himself to be a valuable bench bat against right-handed pitching.

"It's been impressive," Tingler said. "But when you're around Jake just a short period of time, you notice that. Having the shortstop background, having the game clock, having the knowledge, having that quarterback feel to know everybody on the field and where they're supposed to be -- those attributes and those characteristics have helped him translate [at first base]."