SD star trio gets in groove against Ohtani, of all people

Cronenworth, Bogaerts, Machado enjoy big days for Padres

July 5th, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres do not have an All-Star infielder in 2023, which is strange, they’ll tell you, because they feel Ha-Seong Kim has been plenty worthy.

And maybe he has been. (More on Kim later.) But the real reason it’s strange? The Padres employ , and  in their infield. All three were All-Stars in 2021 and ’22. Then all three were paid handsomely before the ‘23 season.

The first half of that ‘23 season, of course, has been wholly underwhelming in San Diego. An 8-5 victory over the Angels on Tuesday aside, the Padres will hit the All-Star break below .500. Each of those three perennial All-Stars has posted numbers significantly below their career averages.

It’s not ideal. But at the very least, it makes the Padres’ path to a second-half turnaround abundantly clear. If that trio can mash like their track records indicate they’re capable of …

“It would mean good stuff for us,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin.

It sure felt possible on a sunny Fourth of July afternoon at a packed Petco Park, where the Padres trounced Shohei Ohtani. Cronenworth doubled in each of his first two at-bats, before going back to back with Bogaerts in the sixth. That marked the first time any teammates had taken Ohtani deep consecutively in the Majors, and the Angels' superstar exited soon after with a blister on his finger.

Bogaerts’ homer was his second in as many games, and he finished 2-for-3 with a walk. Neither of those two reached base as many times as Machado, who went 3-for-3 with a walk. It was a display of offensive force against one of the game’s best pitchers.

“It’s always fun to have a challenge and face a guy that’s as good as he is, arguably the best player ever,” Cronenworth said. “Getting an opportunity to face a guy like that, that’s always a fun competition.”

Cronenworth, who had never faced Ohtani before Tuesday, became the first player to notch three extra-base hits against him in a big league game. Once a two-way player himself in the Rays’ system, Cronenworth would have a unique appreciation for Ohtani’s talents.

“Yeah -- but not that good,” Cronenworth said, laughing. “He’s one of the best hitters in baseball, and he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. Nobody else can say that.”

As such, perhaps Tuesday brought just the breakout Cronenworth was searching for.

“Off a pretty good pitcher … you can see the confidence soar a little bit,” Melvin said. “He’s staying back a little bit better, bat’s in the zone a little bit longer. Hopefully, this is a really good game for him to get him going.”

Same goes for Bogaerts and Machado, who dealt with their share of injuries during the first half. Both had shown signs of a breakout recently. Then Tuesday marked the first time both had three hits in the same game as teammates.

“That’s obviously the level that me and him want to play,” Bogaerts said. “We know that we’re capable of that – and can do even more.”

It was plenty of support for Joe Musgrove, who limited the Angels to one run over seven dominant innings while striking out 11. The Padres' bullpen wobbled in the ninth, with newly promoted lefty José Castillo surrendering four runs, prompting Melvin to call for closer Josh Hader.

Hader had pitched on Monday as well, leaving his status for the series finale Wednesday in question. Hader has yet to pitch in three straight games as a Padre, and Melvin was clearly trying to avoid using Hader unless he absolutely had to.

“You know what?” Melvin would later say. “It’s better than losing a game.”

Hader wasn’t his sharpest either, walking a pair to bring the go-ahead run to the plate with the bases loaded. Then Taylor Ward shot an awkward spinner over the mound. Kim charged it at second base and made an outstanding running play to end the game. 

Kim entered play Tuesday leading all National League defenders with 11 outs above average. Five innings earlier, he made a similarly excellent play on a ball that caromed off Cronenworth’s glove at first base. He coolly knocked it down, picked it up and fired back to Cronenworth for the out. 

“I think he’s the best defender in the game,” Melvin said. “I think a lot of his numbers would suggest that. … That’s a huge play right there to end that game, and not too many guys can do that.”