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Tatis' return gives Padres much-needed spark

@AJCassavell
June 7, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Maybe anyone would've scored. When Manny Machado hit a bouncer to shortstop and Trea Turner threw high to third base, it's possible a different baserunner could've scampered home. But the point is this: It wasn't just any runner on second base during the Padres’ furious fifth-inning comeback

SAN DIEGO -- Maybe anyone would've scored.

When Manny Machado hit a bouncer to shortstop and Trea Turner threw high to third base, it's possible a different baserunner could've scampered home.

But the point is this: It wasn't just any runner on second base during the Padres’ furious fifth-inning comeback against the Nationals on Thursday night. It was Fernando Tatis Jr.

After six weeks on the injured list with a left hamstring strain, the Padres’ spark was back atop their lineup. Tatis reached base via two walks and a single in his return. He shined defensively, and he wreaked havoc on the bases just like old times.

Lifted by his presence, the entire team responded. After falling behind, 4-0, in the top of the first inning, the Padres scored five unanswered runs. They held on for a series-opening 5-4 victory, when the pitching staff retired 20 straight Nationals hitters to end the game.

Box score

“Resilient group all the way around,” said Padres manager Andy Green. “There are painful losses and really good wins over the course of 162 games. ... This was a really impressive win.”

Hunter Renfroe went deep, and Ian Kinsler and Manuel Margot had two hits apiece. But Tatis was the obvious catalyst. In his first two trips to the plate, the rookie shortstop didn’t take the bat off his shoulder, settling for a pair of walks.

Then, in the fifth, he swatted a single to right field on the first pitch. Margot went to third, and Tatis raced to second a few pitches later on a ball in the dirt. The Padres were in business. After Wil Myers worked a walk, Machado hit a ground ball at Turner, who passed up a potential double play.

Instead, Turner tried for the lead runner. His throw was high, and Anthony Rendon couldn’t corral it. Tatis popped up, sprinted home and slid across the plate. As he scored the tying run, he sprung off the plate and clapped both hands while airborne. Petco Park erupted.

“We knew we missed him,” said Padres catcher Austin Hedges. “But nights like tonight, you realize just how much you missed him.”

One batter later, Franmil Reyes’ sacrifice fly plated Myers, and the Padres had the lead for good.

There were times earlier this season when an early four-run deficit would’ve felt insurmountable. But the San Diego offense has come to life lately with five runs in four straight games for the first time all season. Add Tatis to that mix, and the Padres’ lineup suddenly seems legitimately deep.

“We've got some special bats,” Tatis said. “I think we can produce some runs over here.”

They produced five on Thursday, which was barely enough. On his 26th birthday, left-hander Joey Lucchesi needed 64 pitches to get through the first two innings. Somehow, he still managed to make it through five, and he would’ve pitched the sixth, too, if the Padres hadn’t stormed back to take the lead.

“That says a lot about him,” Green said. “Bases loaded in the second inning, and he’s at 60-something pitches. You’re telling me he’s going to pitch into the sixth, I wouldn’t have bought it. He stepped up and did it.”

It isn’t often that Green offers big-picture thoughts after games. The Padres skipper prefers to stay in the present without giving extra weight to certain wins or losses. The fact that he pointed to Thursday’s victory as memorable speaks volumes.

The Padres (32-31) had fallen to .500 after dropping three straight series. They’re on the fringe of the early Wild Card picture. Two National League contenders made major acquisitions this week, as the Cubs signed Craig Kimbrel, and the Braves reached a deal with Dallas Keuchel.

But there’s a legitimate argument that no team bolstered its roster more than the Padres did by getting Tatis healthy. He certainly changed Thursday’s game.

When it was over, Tatis handed his uniform, completely covered in dirt, to a clubhouse manager. He offered a joking apology, then added, “Good luck with that.” Clearly he’d played his part in an important Padres win.

“It's great to be back,” Tatis said. “It's even better the way we came back and got the ‘W.’”

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