SAN DIEGO -- The Padres get a little bit more audacious with every young starting pitcher they promote to the big leagues.
A year ago, Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer were the first two pitchers to arrive from the 2016 Draft class. On Sunday it’ll be Chris Paddack, who threw only 90 Minor League innings last season and didn’t pitch in Triple-A.
In a 3-2 loss to the Giants on Saturday night, they called on 22-year-old left-hander Nick Margevicius. It was their boldest experiment yet. Margevicius, a seventh-round pick out of Rider two summers ago, had never pitched a regular-season game above Class A Advanced. He isn’t ranked among the team’s top 30 prospects.
But he was up for the challenge. Margevicius was excellent for five-plus innings, allowing one run on just three hits. He struck out five Giants, including a memorable first, Buster Posey, in the first inning.
“It was incredible,” said Margevicius. “It's everything you dreamed of.”
The Padres’ bullpen did Margevicius no favors after he allowed a leadoff single in the sixth. Right-hander Robert Stock coughed up that run and two more in the inning. San Diego got two back in the bottom of the frame, on Eric Hosmer's double, but never got any closer.
The Giants won the battle of the bullpens. But for the Padres, the story was Margevicius, whose velocity hovered mostly in the high 80s. He used pinpoint command and a sharp slider to keep hitters off balance.
The decision to promote Margevicius for Saturday’s game was a philosophical one. The San Diego rotation struggled last season, but general manager A.J. Preller didn’t make a meaningful addition to that group in free agency. It’s clear the Padres prefer to give that opportunity to their own young arms, sink or swim.
“We like those guys a lot,” said manager Andy Green. “All of them have earned the opportunity to be here. A.J. hasn't been bashful, and the front office hasn't been bashful. If they feel a guy has got what it takes to succeed here, bring 'em on.”
Those aren’t just words. In Lauer, Lucchesi, Margevicius and Paddack, four-fifths of the Padres’ rotation pitched fewer than 200 innings in the Minor Leagues. When Margevicius earned a non-roster invite to camp this spring, most considered him an afterthought likely to be cut in mid-March.
That was before he stifled the Cubs, then Giants in his first two Cactus League starts. Other pitchers with more experience and more acclaim began to falter. There was one place available in the San Diego rotation, and the long shot won it.
“I didn't know how long I was going to be there, so every single day, I wanted to make it the best day I could,” Margevicius said. “I didn't know where that was going to lead me. I was hoping it would lead me somewhere good. Here I am.”
Here he is -- in the big leagues as the latest Padres rotation experiment to bear fruit.
After Steven Duggar’s leadoff single in the sixth, Green hopped from the top step of the dugout and called for Stock. Margevicius was sitting on just 72 pitches, but he hadn’t thrown more than four innings in Spring Training, and he was entering the heart of the San Francisco order for a third time.
“We went into the day knowing it was five to six [innings] max, and we didn’t want him to get in a situation where he’s running back through [Evan] Longoria and Posey,” Green said.
Stock went 1 2/3 innings Friday, but he needed only 14 pitches to get through it, and he’s generally been effective with minimal rest. But Yangervis Solarte bounced a go-ahead double just inside the right-field line, then Longoria singled and Posey walked.
That was all for Stock. Robbie Erlin escaped the inning, but not before an RBI single from Joe Panik plated Longoria. Posey would’ve scored, too, if not for Hunter Renfroe’s first outfield assist of the season.
Manny being Manny
Defensively, the Padres haven’t gotten much out of their third basemen over the past few years. That’s about to change in a big way.
Machado is inarguably one of the sport’s best third basemen, and he showed why in the second inning Saturday. Panik lifted a popup in foul ground toward the third-base coaches box. Machado covered some serious ground, then laid out for a diving catch.
It was the type of play that won Machado a pair of Gold Glove Awards in Baltimore -- and the type of play San Diego hasn’t seen out of its third basemen in quite some time.