Inbox: How will SD's lineup look in opener?

Beat reporter AJ Cassavell answers fans' questions

July 19th, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- It’s officially game week in San Diego.

At long last, the Padres are slated to open their 2020 season on Friday night when they host the D-backs at Petco Park. Let’s dive straight into your questions.

If you had to predict our Opening Day lineup, what is it looking like?
-- Armando R., San Diego

Arizona recently named Madison Bumgarner as its Opening Day starter, marking the second consecutive season the Padres will open against MadBum. Robbie Ray, another lefty, is slated to follow Bumgarner on Saturday.

That’s an instant litmus test for . Should his struggles against left-handers continue, he might find himself in a first-base platoon later this season. For now, however, Hosmer is the everyday first baseman, and he’ll get the Opening Day nod.

is the only other lefty bat I'd expect in that lineup -- though don't be shocked if Edward Olivares starts one of those first two games in his place. In the designated hitter spot, the righty-hitting has a strong case to start against righties. But I think he's definitely in against a lefty.

With all that in mind, here's what manager Jayce Tingler's first lineup card might look like:

1. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS
2. Tommy Pham, LF
3. Manny Machado, 3B
4. Wil Myers, RF
5. Eric Hosmer, 1B
6. Ty France, DH
7. Trent Grisham, CF
8. Jurickson Profar, 2B
9. Austin Hedges, C

Are France and our DHs?
-- Will H., San Diego

I'd be very surprised if any Padre serves as a regular DH. Consider this: the team plays 30 games in the first 31 days of the season -- after a shortened camp in which intrasquad games were often limited to four or five innings. That seems like a recipe for regulars like Tatis, Machado, Hosmer, Pham and Myers to rotate in the DH spot in the early stages of the season, just to keep them fresh.

That said, Naylor and France are still the likeliest options for that role. The Padres want to see what France can do with regular at-bats, but he's blocked in the field by Hosmer and Machado. That leaves him as the obvious starter at DH against lefties and a serious candidate to start against right-handers as well.

It'll be up to Naylor to seize that role from France. It's his best path toward playing time, given the Padres' current outfield mix and Naylor's poor defensive record. If Naylor's bat gets hot, he could easily supplant France as the first-choice DH against righties. Francisco Mejía is an option as well.

In general, what are we thinking when it comes to a starting pitcher's innings expectations per game? 4-5 or 6-7? With our bullpen, I'm curious if there is going to be a more visible threshold.
-- Chad E., San Diego

The answer will vary based on that day's starting pitcher. Chris Paddack and Dinelson Lamet are viewed as front-line rotation options. It's safe to expect a somewhat normal workload for them (though the hook might be a bit quicker if they’re in trouble). Garrett Richards could add himself to that mix if he looks like his pre-surgery self.

At the back end of the rotation, however, things are going to look very different. and are currently the favorites for the Nos. 4 and 5 rotation spots. But given the Padres' deep bullpen, their workload should be limited to twice through the order -- at most.

In fact, Tingler might get awfully creative in those two rotation spots, using piggybacks and planned bullpen days. As he is quick to answer when asked about his numerous pitching possibilities: "Everything is on the table."

How long until gets the callup?
-- Steven F., San Diego

Gore, baseball’s top-ranked pitching prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is a perfect fit for one of the aforementioned creative days at the back of the Padres' rotation. As things stand, he's not a serious option for a regular starting role like Paddack, Lamet and Richards. But he could be very valuable in a spot start or in a short outing, perhaps in tandem with a righty long man.

With that in mind, Gore will likely be left off the Opening Day roster. But the moment the Padres need some length or a spot starter, he will be one of the first arms they look to. I'd set the over/under at Aug. 24, one month into the season.

Do you see making the Opening Day roster? If so, as a super utility or a middle infielder only? Also, does he have a shot still at pitching this season?
-- Will H., San Diego

Cronenworth's roster status might depend on the status of Jorge Mateo, who tested positive for the coronavirus upon intake screening (and gave the club permission to disclose his diagnosis). If Mateo is ready to go, it's hard to envision the Padres carrying an eighth infielder. But if he's not, Cronenworth is an obvious roster choice, given his ability to back up at shortstop.

As for his role this season, there's no question Cronenworth is capable of doing a lot of things -- including pitching. But with the Padres' bullpen depth and roster expansion, Cronenworth has been working exclusively in the infield. Given his above-average glove at second and short, that's almost certainly where he'd play, barring an emergency.