Kinsler makes mound debut, then hits HR in loss

Lucchesi struggles as Padres drop opener against Rays

August 13th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Funny the way baseball works.

The Padres would love to forget their 10-4 loss to the Rays on Monday night as quickly as possible. But -- precisely because the game got so far out of hand -- authored a somewhat unforgettable finish.

Kinsler has accomplished a lot during his 14-year big league career. He had never pitched. And he had certainly never homered as a pitcher.

“Maybe I missed my calling,” the Padres' second baseman said.

Kinsler has been relegated to a bench role over the past month since the arrival of Luis Urias, the club's No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline. With the Padres trailing by eight runs and dealing with a tired bullpen, Kinsler was the only viable position-player option available for the ninth inning.

Manager Andy Green approached Kinsler with the idea in the eighth. Kinsler thought through the situation, and he knew what was coming.

“I just went in the cage, got a little loose and tried to make the best of it,” Kinsler said.

He did exactly that.

Somehow, Kinsler managed to allow four baserunners without giving up a run. Shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. started a nifty double play for the first two outs. Then, after Kinsler loaded the bases with a pair of walks, he got Avisail Garcia to line out to third.

Kinsler’s fastball averaged 80 mph, and he touched 82. That fact was pointed out to him by a reporter after the game.

“Eighty-poo,” Kinsler corrected, with a smile.

It was a moment of levity for the 37-year-old Kinsler in what’s been a tough offensive season. He arrived in San Diego on a two-year deal in the winter and struggled from the start. In 87 games, Kinsler has batted .217/.278/.368.

With Urias waiting in the wings, Kinsler became an object of Padres fans’ ire. He did himself no favors in May when -- after launching a go-ahead home run -- he gestured toward the crowd behind the home dugout and tossed in some expletives. Kinsler later denied that the outburst was directed at the crowd. In the eyes of most fans, however, the damage was done.

But the tune changed as Monday’s game got to the late innings. The fans who remained had just witnessed a scoreless relief inning from the longtime second baseman. So when he strode to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, they chanted his name, rising from the lower level at Petco Park.

“Yeah, that was really nice,” Kinsler said. “It's always nice to be on that side of it with the crowd.”

He made it more entertaining a few pitches later. Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge grooved a belt-high fastball, and Kinsler sent it into the left-field seats for his 1,999th career hit. It marked the first time in franchise history that a pitcher had gone deep in the ninth. Technically, he’s the first Padres pitcher to go deep this season.

Of course, “pitcher” is being used loosely here. Kinsler hadn’t pitched in a game since he was 13. He said he’d never pitched from 60 feet, 6 inches.

“It's a little nerve-wracking at first, honestly,” Kinsler said. “My arm's going to be in pain probably for the next couple days. But it was a lot of fun.

“It was entertaining to say the least.”

Lucchesi’s velo woes

The next time Joey Lucchesi takes the mound, he will exceed his total of 130 innings from last season -- with a month and a half still to be played. The Padres have asked for a lot from Lucchesi this year.

Now, the effects might be showing.

Lucchesi grinded his way to 4 2/3 innings of three-run ball, allowing five hits and walking three.

“Everything was a fight,” Green said. “Everything was a struggle.”

A concerning trend has emerged for Lucchesi (who was never a high-octane arm in the first place). His fastball velocity has dipped into the high 80s. Lucchesi threw 56 two-seam fastballs, and they averaged 88.8 mph. He topped out at 90.9 -- after sitting between 91 and 92 mph for most of the first half.

“I’m just trying to find a way to be myself,” Lucchesi said. “I’ve got stuff I need to work on, obviously. But I’ll just stay with the process.”

Lucchesi was asked to be an anchor for the youngest pitching staff in the Majors this year. But the complexion of the rotation is changing. Next spring, Lucchesi will find himself in a rotation dogfight. He’s got a month and a half to turn things around and make a strong final impression in 2019. That may start with him sorting out his velocity issues.