Unexpected 'pen day turns sour for Padres

October 7th, 2020

The Padres -- with two ailing aces and two other starters yet to complete three innings -- have asked for an awful lot from their bullpen this postseason.

On Tuesday night, they finally asked a bit too much.

Mike Clevinger exited early, and the bullpen unraveled late as the Padres dropped the opener of their National League Division Series against the Dodgers, 5-1, at Globe Life Field in Arlington. For the second straight series, their backs are against the wall after losing Game 1.

“We’ll be up for it,” said San Diego manager Jayce Tingler. “Like I said last series, whatever we’ve got, these guys are going to lay it all out there.”

Whatever they’ve got might no longer include Clevinger. The right-hander was added to the roster after missing the NL Wild Card Series with a right elbow impingement. At the time, it felt like a massive boost for a ballclub in dire need of starting pitching.

Clevinger pitched a sharp first inning. But after a long wait for the second, his ailing right arm never quite loosened up. He got treatment. He threw weighted balls. He got re-taped. His arm still wouldn’t loosen.

Clevinger threw two pitches to Cody Bellinger to start the second -- a 91 mph fastball and a 77 mph slider, both well below his averages. His day was done, with little clarity regarding his status beyond Tuesday. The Padres were forced to turn to a de facto bullpen day for the fourth time in four games this postseason.

“It’s been a lot,” said an emotional Clevinger afterward. “This is what you play for. This is why you go through the process. ... So it’s been a lot.”

The Padres battled through their first-round series against the Cardinals without Clevinger or right-hander Dinelson Lamet (who is attempting to work his way back from right biceps tightness). Their bullpen brilliantly covered 21 innings and was asked for eight more on Tuesday.

The first four of those were excellent -- with newly promoted Ryan Weathers as the standout. The 20-year-old left-hander worked 1 1/3 scoreless, hitless frames in his big league debut, including a strikeout of Cody Bellinger.

An ugly fifth-inning error allowed the Dodgers to tie the game at 1. Second baseman Jake Cronenworth threw low to Eric Hosmer, who inexplicably had the ball carom off his glove. Still, the Padres relief corps carried a no-hitter into the sixth. That’s when the dam broke.

“They’ve been putting a lot of innings in,” said Padres catcher Austin Nola, who drove in the Padres’ only run with a fourth-inning single. “When you throw so many innings, there’s going to be nights like this. There’s going to be nights where it doesn’t all come together.”

Mookie Betts’ double put men on second and third with one out in the sixth, spelling the end of the night for Garrett Richards, the Padres' fifth reliever. Tingler’s night, too -- the Padres skipper emerged to remove his right-hander and was tossed by home-plate umpire Lance Barrett for arguing balls and strikes.

“I like Lance,” Tingler would later say. “Lance is good. We disagreed on the strike zone. Simple as that.”

Tingler wouldn’t have enjoyed what was coming next anyway. Left-hander Matt Strahm allowed two inherited runners to score, then two of his own, as the Dodgers built a four-run lead with a four-hit frame. That was plenty, on a night when the Padres offense went ice cold in big spots.

“Bottom line, we lost the battle of the strike zone on both sides,” Tingler said.

The Padres now face the daunting task of coming from behind against the Dodgers, who finished with the Majors’ best record at 43-17. In postseason history, teams winning Game 1 in a best-of-five series eventually won 98 of those 136 series.

The Dodgers send Clayton Kershaw, and his sparkling career numbers against San Diego, to the mound for Game 2. The Friars, meanwhile, aren’t yet sure who they’ll counter with. Zach Davies and Chris Paddack are options, but both allowed four runs without completing the third inning against the Cardinals last week.

If it feels dire, it’s worth remembering that the Padres found themselves in a similar predicament last week. They lost a dud of a Game 1 against St. Louis, too, and weren’t entirely sure how they’d piece together enough innings from their pitching staff. Yet here they are, still playing baseball.

“We’ve got to put it behind us and move forward,” Nola said. “That’s what it is. You put this game behind you, and you get ready to play. I mean, 9 [p.m. ET] tomorrow. That’s the best part about this game, you keep getting to play more.”

Until you don’t. The Padres need three wins in the next four nights to ensure they’ll keep playing -- a tall task against a very good team, but they’ve met every challenge thrown their way so far.