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Inbox: How will Opening Day OF shake out?

@AJCassavell
March 12, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Padres break camp in two weeks -- meaning they’ll have that long to answer critical questions about their rotation, their bullpen, their bench and their catching situation. You, the reader, asked a number of those questions this week. In the first Inbox of the Manny Machado

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Padres break camp in two weeks -- meaning they’ll have that long to answer critical questions about their rotation, their bullpen, their bench and their catching situation.

You, the reader, asked a number of those questions this week. In the first Inbox of the Manny Machado era, I did my best to answer them.

What's the Opening Day outfield?
-- @TRK_Santos

I've been wrestling with this question on a near-daily basis since the beginning of camp. I still don't have a definitive answer, but I might as well go on record now.

Let's rule out the lefty-hitting Franchy Cordero. He's going to get plenty of playing time, but he's not going to start against Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner. That leaves Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, Franmil Reyes and Manuel Margot.

Myers, Renfroe and Reyes were the Padres' three best hitters last season. Margot is the only true center fielder of the bunch, and he's excellent defensively. Manager Andy Green summed up the situation nicely last week.

"There's going to be times when people feel like they should be in the lineup and they're not," Green said. "It's not a lack of faith in that particular person. We have good players.

"A lot of guys' skill sets line up. They're right-handed-hitting power outfielders. We're going to look at what gives us the best opportunity to win that day and not make any apologies for guys that have to be on the bench."

Generally speaking, I'd lean toward an outfield of Myers, Reyes and Margot, with Renfroe coming off the bench right now. But Renfroe has torched Bumgarner (5-for-13, two doubles and two homers). So I'll go with Reyes-Myers-Renfroe against the Giants, with Margot available as a late-game defensive replacement to bump Myers from center field.

What are the chances the Padres sign or trade for a starting pitcher before Opening Day?
-- Ian

Not zero. But not very high, either.

The Padres really like their internal options. They've made it clear they aren't going to add an "innings-eater" just for the sake of, well, eating innings. They'd rather give opportunity to young arms like Logan Allen and Chris Paddack, or maybe even Cal Quantrill or Nick Margevicius.

That said, A.J. Preller is still the GM, so it's fair to expect anything. But even if Preller landed a starter, it's probably too late for that starter to factor into the mix on Opening Day.

Any word yet on how the Padres will split time between Austin Hedges and Francisco Mejía?
-- Anh N., Portland

No matter how good Mejia is this spring -- and he's been really, really good -- he's probably not going to take the starting role from Hedges. Not immediately at least.

From there, it was initially worth wondering whether Mejia belonged as a big league backup or in Triple-A -- where he could hone his plate discipline and pitch framing with everyday reps. Veteran Chris Stewart is an option to break camp as Hedges' backup, and he'd be a backup in the truest sense.

But Mejia is probably forcing Stewart out of the equation by proving himself worthy of a legitimate chunk of playing time behind the dish.

How would that split work? Hard to say. Hedges is a righty, and Mejia's a switch-hitter, so there are platoon possibilities. But Hedges' splits were reversed last season, and Mejia is better as a right-handed hitter anyway. Playing-time plans would probably fluctuate on a game-by-game basis.

Is there any possibility the Padres might use Matt Strahm like any other starting pitcher, throwing 110 pitches in a game?
-- Sergio Q.

At the start of the season, probably not. But I wouldn't put anything past Strahm at this point. His stuff is electric, and he's been the Padres' best pitcher this spring, having posted 12 strikeouts in nine scoreless innings, while allowing just five hits.

Perhaps most importantly, Strahm seems like he’s on a mission to prove himself capable of handling a starter's workload. So while the Padres will continue to monitor Strahm closely, he will earn himself some leeway the more he proves that he can handle big-time innings.

I'd still guess the Padres play it safe with Strahm, and they won't let him work too deep into games in April. But he's very close to cementing his place in the rotation. And it wouldn't shock me if Green takes the kid gloves off after a few starts, perhaps when he knows Strahm will have a day or two of extra rest before his next outing.

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