Strahm sheds 'training wheels' in 8-frame gem

Padres' bats can't back young lefty in 5th straight loss

April 20th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- When Eric Hosmer corralled Manny Machado's sidearm throw to end the top of the eighth inning, practically floated off the Petco Park mound.

Strahm, you see, had never pitched more than five innings in a big league game. He'd spent most of last season in the bullpen, his workload closely monitored as he returned from knee surgery. On Friday, in a 3-2 loss to the Reds in 11 innings, the Padres finally turned Strahm loose.

The spindly left-hander with the loose delivery and the electric stuff did not disappoint.

“I'm ready for those training wheels, so to speak, to be off,” Strahm said. “I'm ready to go.”

The training wheels were certainly off on Friday. Strahm faced 26 Reds batters, and in the top of the first inning, he made his only mistake. Ahead of Eugenio Suarez, 0-2, Strahm grooved a fastball, and Suarez hit it out. After that? Strahm retired every hitter but one. Yasiel Puig's 30-foot chopper up the third-base line was the lone exception.

Strahm needed just 87 pitches to get through eight innings while striking out five. The last of those pitches was a changeup that Kyle Farmer bounced to Machado on two hops. Strahm watched the play unfold, then he leapt toward the dugout. He screamed. Then he screamed again. Then he screamed a third time, while pumping both fists.

And why shouldn't he enjoy the moment? Strahm bulked up significantly during the winter, knowing the Padres wanted to use him as a starter.

“Everything I'd worked for this offseason, that's what I wanted to do,” Strahm said.

When the Padres acquired Strahm from Kansas City at the 2017 Trade Deadline, this was precisely the kind of performance they’d hoped for. But they always knew they’d have to wait. Strahm didn’t fully recover from the surgery until early last spring. At that point, he didn’t have nearly enough strength in his legs to handle a starter’s workload.

Strahm was excellent in the ‘pen last season, but this is what the Padres wanted all along. On Friday night, he mixed all four of his pitches at fairly even intervals. His slider was filthy (as usual). But Strahm relied heavily on his changeup to induce so many quick outs. He also mixed in some very effective curveballs.

“That’s what makes a pitcher good,” Strahm said. “I don't want someone to get up there and think: I can eliminate his changeup, I can eliminate his slider. I want him thinking all four pitches, so the advantage is in my hands.”

Spoken like a true starting pitcher. There isn’t much doubt anymore, after all.

Baserunning woes

During their current five-game losing streak, the Padres have run into outs on the bases on a near-nightly basis. Friday’s came at a particularly inopportune time.

With one out in the 10th, slumping second baseman laced a double into the left-center-field gap. A few pitches later, he tried to swipe third, but Reds reliever Jared Hughes executed an inside move and nabbed Kinsler at third base.

In Green’s eyes, Kinsler’s decision was easily distinguishable from a couple recent instances of players who were doubled off on line drives. He explained:

“It’s a gamble there,” Green said. “There’s certain outs you make on the basepaths that come from aggression, come from trying to do something for an offense that’s stagnating. … He doesn’t like making outs on the bases. Nobody does. But there are certain types of outs you make that are kind of the cost of doing business. That one doesn’t nearly bother me as much as some of the other ones.”

Indeed, the Padres’ offense has been dreadful of late, save for Fernando Tatis Jr. and Machado. Tatis homered, walked and scored both runs on Friday night. Machado went 2-for-5.

The Padres mustered just two other baserunners. Eric Hosmer went 0-for-5, dropping his average to .184. Kinsler, who is hitting .153, got caught stealing with a scuffling Austin Hedges at the plate and a pinch-hitter on a short bench on deck.

“We haven’t done much offensively,” Green said. “Him trying to get to third with one out, if you’re going to get thrown out stealing third, that’s the time. … I’m not putting that in the same category as being doubled off on line drives. That’s aggression on bases. That’s an opportunity to steal third with one out and put the winning run on third base.”

Hedges bounced back to the pitcher, ending the threat, before Derek Dietrich’s two-run homer off Craig Stammen put the Reds on top in the 11th.

Wil the thrill
With Manuel Margot on the paternity list this weekend, is the Padres’ only available center-field option. A solid left fielder, Myers has long been derided for his defensive ability in center. But he turned in an excellent effort on Friday night.

Jose Peraza led off the sixth with a deep drive to the opposite field. Myers ranged 102 feet in 5.3 seconds, and he tracked the ball down on the edge of the warning track. According to Statcast, the play had a 55 percent catch probability. In other words: Good center fielders make the play, but it’s no easy catch.

“I just got a read on it, and I knew it was mine the whole way,” Myers said. “I just had to make the play on it.”

Myers ranged to the wall in the eighth for another impressive grab, taking extra bases away from Puig.

“I absolutely loved it,” Green said. “If that’s what he can do when he spells Manny Margot or ends up out there on a given day, that’s really encouraging.”