Padres' pitching duo dynamic in opener

Clevinger-Gore 'piggyback' strategy pays off in shutout win vs. Phils

May 18th, 2022

PHILADELPHIA -- Is this really the back end of the Padres’ starting rotation? Because if so, it’s time to put the rest of the league on notice: The bottom of the San Diego rotation looks an awful lot like the top of a few others. Perhaps better.

In their 3-0 victory over Philadelphia on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park, the Padres employed a piggyback in which right-hander Mike Clevinger took the ball first, followed by lefty MacKenzie Gore. There aren’t enough starts to go around anymore, so the Padres found a creative way to keep their electric rookie on the mound on regular rest.

That game plan worked to perfection. Clevinger was brilliant in his third start since his return from Tommy John surgery. He pitched five scoreless, one-hit innings, needing just 75 pitches to do so. It was, by some distance, the best Clevinger has looked since the 2020 surgery, Spring Training included.

“Clev was awesome,” Gore said afterward. “He set the tone. I came in and tried to do the same thing he did.”

Gore, meanwhile, was making his first professional relief appearance, Minor Leagues included. He worked three scoreless frames, striking out four on 40 pitches. On the strength of a two-hit night from newcomer Robinson Canó, the Padres got plenty of offense to improve to 3-1 on their road trip and 23-13 overall.

Much has been made lately about the depth of this starting rotation. What, exactly, are the Padres supposed to do with all these pitchers?

Maybe the answer is simple: Use them. If you have lots of good pitching, you don’t let it go to waste. And if a disproportionate number of those pitchers are starters, you find a place for them -- particularly when the bullpen has proven somewhat leaky of late.

Right now, it just so happens that the Padres have seven healthy and capable starting pitchers. Gore’s move to the bullpen was prompted by Blake Snell’s forthcoming return from the injured list. When Snell finishes his debut outing on Wednesday, it’s entirely possible the Padres could piggyback Nick Martinez, another one of their starting pitching options, on top of him.

“The ceiling is super high for everyone involved,” Clevinger said. “I’ve been around this game long enough to know you can never have enough. It’s always good to have these reinforcements. It’s always good to have these guys that can back you up. They’re going to get their time back out there again.”

There are ancillary benefits to keeping seven capable starters on your pitching staff. For one, the Padres didn’t need to push Clevinger beyond his limits on Tuesday night. 

“We’re still so early in the season,” Clevinger said. “Obviously, I don’t want to leave any game, ever. But that was probably for the best.”

The veteran almost certainly will be on an innings restriction this year, coming off his second elbow surgery. If the Padres can ease his workload in the early part of the calendar, they might just be doing themselves a favor down the stretch.

The Padres are also easing the workload on Gore, a rookie who, frankly, hasn’t pitched much over the past two seasons. Plus, there are huge benefits to giving the bullpen a breather every few nights.

On Tuesday, Gore covered the sixth through eighth innings, with closer Taylor Rogers nailing down his 14th save. But acting manager Ryan Christenson said he would’ve considered giving Gore a fourth inning if the Padres had expanded their lead.

“If you’re going to three or four guys [in the bullpen] routinely, and the workload starts piling up, to have a guy down there that can clean up three innings … and potentially finish a game, that’s pretty big stuff,” Christenson said.

Said Gore, who is clearly on board with his new role: “When we can save innings for the bullpen, it’s a long season, that always helps.”

Gore picked veteran reliever Craig Stammen’s brain about how to handle entering a game out of the bullpen. He decided he wouldn’t treat it like a start, because it wasn’t. So he shortened his routine and threw fewer warm-up pitches. And then… 

“It was just kind of baseball once I got out there,” Gore said.

There will come a time when this level of pitching depth comes in very handy. It was just last season, after all, that the Padres dealt with a slew of injuries and found themselves wholly devoid of rotation options come September. 

For now, they’re more than content to flaunt their abundance of riches, sometimes twice on the same night.