Before camp began, the Padres had mostly settled on their four regular infielders and three regular outfielders. When they decided on a roster with 16 pitchers and a two-man catcher rotation, that left five bench places available for utility and designated-hitter options.
Given the established group of regulars and the presence of a DH, there didn’t appear to be much room for an impact from the bench. But through four games, the Padres have gotten massive contributions from that group, on their way to a 3-1 start.
"I know it's only been four games, but I feel like whatever combination we've gone with, we haven't skipped a beat,” said manager Jayce Tingler. “I also just love the fact -- early on, it's four games, it is what it is -- but it means a lot for all of us that everybody is contributing."
A quick rundown of how that quintet of bench pieces is being used:
Garcia: He'll start at second against some right-handed pitchers, with Jurickson Profar either sitting or moving to DH. Garcia's experience off the bench makes him a perfect fit for pinch-hit at-bats vs. tough righties in situations (like Sunday) where power isn't a requirement. Perhaps most importantly, Garcia -- a career utility man -- has assumed a teaching role among the bench group, offering insight on how to be ready when called upon.
France: He’s the top DH option against left-handed pitching and should see a few starts against righties, too. But France won’t serve exclusively as DH. He can play both infield corners, which could prove valuable in giving Hosmer and Manny Machado a partial day, while keeping their bats in the lineup.
Josh Naylor: Naylor is the first Padre to serve as DH twice this season. If he hits, he'll continue to receive starts there against righties, though he’s unlikely to play much outfield. As a pinch-hit threat, Naylor brings significantly more pop than Garcia.
Edward Olivares: Olivares is a much better defensive outfielder than Naylor, and he could receive starts at all three spots -- perhaps spelling Trent Grisham in center against a tough lefty or moving Wil Myers or Tommy Pham to DH for a day.
Cronenworth: A super-utility threat, Cronenworth's attempt at becoming a two-way player has been shelved for 2020. But he's valuable as a pinch-runner and can play all four infield positions. Cronenworth, who had never played a Minor League inning at first base, made his big league debut there after pinch-running for Hosmer on Sunday. He had to borrow France's glove because his first-baseman's glove was buried in a box in his parents' basement.
"It truly gives us options," Tingler when asked about the versatility of his bench. "And it makes decisions in the morning, when we're talking about lineups, incredibly challenging. Which is the way it should be."
Hosmer was back in the San Diego lineup on Tuesday night, and this time the Padres hope he's there to stay.
Hosmer missed games on Saturday and Monday as he battled gastrointestinal issues that weren't COVID related, the team said. He started Sunday despite feeling some effects of the illness (and launched a solo homer to bring his league-leading RBI total to seven).
"He's feeling pretty good right now, and [we] believe he's going to be good to go," Tingler said.
Hosmer is off to a red-hot start, having reached base six times in eight trips to the plate with three extra-base hits.
Big 3 lined up for L.A.
There wasn't much doubt, but Tingler confirmed that the starting rotation would flip back to the top beginning Wednesday, meaning Chris Paddack and Dinelson Lamet will pitch the final two games of the series, with Garrett Richards slated to open a three-game set in Colorado.
That also lines those three up for the Padres' first series against the Dodgers this season, slated for next Monday through Wednesday at Petco Park. In their first trip through the rotation, Paddack, Lamet and Richards combined to allow one run over 16 innings.
"I don't think teams are going to be very excited to come in here and catch us three," Richards said after his start. "We're pitching with our hair on fire."
The Padres haven't announced starters for Saturday and Sunday in Colorado, but Joey Lucchesi and Zach Davies are favorites to pitch those games. It's still possible, however, that the Padres use an opener or a tandem involving Cal Quantrill.