'I almost cried': Avila earns ovation, 1st win

Righty making case for San Diego's 2024 rotation after throwing 6 2/3 scoreless IP

September 6th, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- No matter what happens down the stretch this season, the Padres are facing existential questions about their rotation this winter.

No, the starters have not been at fault for this season’s struggles. The Padres -- despite their 66-74 record after Tuesday night’s 8-0 victory over the Phillies at Petco Park -- boast a 3.76 rotation ERA that qualifies as the best mark in the Majors.

But consider the question marks surrounding the five primary starters, who have handled the bulk of that workload this season:

 is slated to hit free agency, and he might do so with a second Cy Young Award to his name. It'll be costly to keep him.

is out with right shoulder capsule inflammation. He's been one of the most durable starters in baseball over the past few years, but his 2023 campaign was riddled with injuries.

is 37 and dealing with elbow trouble. The Padres are optimistic he won’t require major surgery, but tests revealed a bone spur, and Darvish might need a cleanup operation this winter.

will likely decline his player option, leaving San Diego with a team option of two years and $32 million. Wacha has been excellent when he’s pitched, but he has a history of shoulder trouble, and he missed nearly two months this season for that reason. His future as a Padre is uncertain.

, having proven himself perfectly capable of handling a starting role, will almost certainly decline his player option and join Snell in free agency.

That’s one major question mark for each of San Diego’s starting five.

Which brings us to , who pitched 6 2/3 scoreless frames on Tuesday. He was given a standing ovation as he left the mound, having picked up his first career win while lowering his ERA to 2.19.

“Honestly, I don't know that I ever expected that type of reception,” Avila said in Spanish through interpreter Danny Sanchez. “That's something that you hope for and dream for, and to be honest, I almost cried.”

It was quite a moment for one of the longest tenured members of the organization. No, Avila isn't going to anchor the team’s pitching plans in 2024. But based on his recent performance -- and the forthcoming rotation puzzle -- it’s certainly better that he’s on board.

“I think you’re always evaluating what next year looks like, because it’s not going to be the same here,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “There are going to be some changes here, some free agents, so forth and so on. It’s about him contributing at a time when we need somebody to contribute. And then making opportunities for next year.”

Indeed, Avila’s stock is on the rise. With Darvish and Musgrove on the injured list, he’s filled in admirably. It wasn’t always clear that he would ever get this chance.

The 26-year-old right-hander arrived in the December 2016 trade that sent Derek Norris to the Nationals. Avila mostly toiled in the Minors, making one spot start in ‘19 and another in ‘21. He made two relief appearances in ‘22. Along the way, he was twice removed from the 40-man roster.

“I’m so happy for him,” said Fernando Tatis Jr., who also arrived via trade in 2016. “Being able to see all the work that we put in together in the Minor Leagues -- him for a longer period of time -- and now that we’re here, both together in the big leagues, and seeing him having success, it’s a really beautiful history to be a part of.”

That’s the romantic side of it. Avila, finally given a chance after nearly a decade in the Minors, is making the most of his opportunity.

The practical side is that Avila is keeping the San Diego rotation afloat with Darvish and Musgrove on the IL. After Rich Hill’s short start Monday, the Padres needed an outing like this one, and Avila delivered. He allowed two hits, and although he walked six, he used his sinker expertly to induce four double plays -- one shy of Luis Perdomo’s franchise record.

Offensively, Tatis launched a moonshot to the second deck in left field (on his bobblehead night, no less). Xander Bogaerts went 4-for-4, and Luis Campusano had three hits.

Avila’s first career win was never really in doubt.

“Really, I just chalk it up to working hard, and really believing in yourself,” he said. “I think for me, that's what I maintained is just the belief in myself to keep working hard, and that one day, things were going to work out.”