'Pen raises questions after Musgrove's 'shorter' start

Profar, Machado shine while Grisham has tough game at the plate

September 23rd, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres’ winning streak is no more.

Brendan Donovan hit a go-ahead grand slam off right-handed reliever Nick Martinez in the seventh inning, as San Diego dropped its first game in six, a 5-4 loss to St. Louis on Thursday afternoon at Petco Park.

Here are five quick takeaways:

1. Questions to sort through in the bullpen
For the most part, the Padres’ pen has been solid. Now that Josh Hader looks like himself again, they’ve got a deep group of arms that features an array of different options for different situations.

“The best thing is: We’re versatile,” said right-hander Pierce Johnson, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning and hasn’t allowed a run in three outings since his return from a right elbow injury. “... We have so many guys who can do different things.”

Johnson isn’t wrong. Martinez and Adrian Morejon can pitch multiple innings. Tim Hill is a certifiable lefty weapon. Luis García and Robert Suarez are solid setup options from the right side. And, lately, Johnson has thrown his name in that mix as well.

But that’s a lot for manager Bob Melvin to sift through. Pick the wrong guy for the wrong matchup, and it might prove costly. Martinez has been an expert fireman lately. But after Morejon ran into trouble in the seventh, Martinez allowed a Tommy Edman walk and Donovan’s grand slam.

2. Musgrove dealing with arm fatigue
The Padres went to Morejon in the sixth, despite the fact that starter Joe Musgrove had thrown only 72 pitches. After the game, Melvin revealed that Musgrove had been dealing with some arm fatigue.

“Whenever you don’t feel great during the course of the week … you just don’t want to push it,” Melvin said. “We knew going in, it was probably going to be a little bit of a shorter game for him.”

Musgrove was sharp over five innings of one-run ball. Afterward, he downplayed the nature of his arm issue, noting that he expects to be full-go for his next start, which would come with an extra day of rest, given Monday’s off-day.

“This is not something I’m concerned with at all,” Musgrove said. “It’s more of a muscle fatigue than it is a pain. … It’s something we should be able to get under control and be good before this next start.”

3. Outfield stock up: Profar
Jurickson Profar went 2-for-5 with a double and a home run -- and could’ve had another extra-base hit in the ninth but was robbed by a diving Paul Goldschmidt to end the game.

If Profar is heating up, that’s big news. He’s been the Padres’ catalyst atop the lineup for much of the season, but he had slumped to a .582 September OPS entering the series finale. Over the weekend, Melvin called Profar into his office for a one-on-one.

“I’m feeling good,” Profar said. “Just trying to go back to what I was doing in the beginning of the season. A lot of it has to do with BoMel. He called me into the office in Arizona, and we had a great talk.

“Sometimes this late in the season, you try to do too much, trying to help the team as much as you can. But sometimes doing too much doesn’t help. That’s what he talked to me about, and he took a lot off of my plate.”

4. Outfield stock down: Grisham
Trent Grisham has lost his starting job in center field to rookie José Azocar, but he started for the first time in a week on Thursday -- then went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and a flyout in the ninth as the tying run.

After the game, Melvin was asked about Grisham -- specifically whether he’d considered pinch-hitting in that spot. (Grisham had homered off Giovanny Gallegos earlier in the season.)

“He’s got 17 homers, got a homer off the guy that he faced in the ninth,” Melvin said. “We’re going to need him, too. You have to stick with some guys at times when there’s some struggles. Felt like it was a good matchup for him today. Didn’t work out. But we’re not just going to run and hide from Grish. There’s a lot that he has to offer.”

5. Machado’s MVP case grows
Three of the NL’s leading MVP candidates were on the field together this week, and all three -- Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado and Goldschmidt -- acquitted themselves quite well. But Machado left the biggest impression.

Facing dominant Cardinals right-hander Ryan Helsley, owner of a 1.32 ERA on the season, Machado pulverized a hanging slider and sent it a Statcast-projected 411 feet into the Padres’ bullpen. It was his 30th homer of the season, cutting the Cards' lead to 5-4 in the eighth.

“Those are the elite players -- that hit really good pitching,” Melvin said. “Nothing really surprises you any more. You expect him to come up big in big situations like that. It’s not easy. It’s a lot to expect. But he keeps doing it all year.”