SAN DIEGO -- The precariously thin nature of San Diego’s rotation came into focus on the afternoon of July 30. In the span of a few hours, the Padres passed on acquiring a starter at the Trade Deadline, then saw Chris Paddack tweak an oblique during his between-starts bullpen session.
Those events, in quick succession, meant that a sizable burden fell squarely on the shoulders of Ryan Weathers. To be clear, it was a larger burden than the Padres were comfortable handing to their 21-year-old rookie. But their attempts at acquiring a front-line starter fell short, and Paddack’s injury came out of the blue. At the back of the rotation, it was suddenly Weathers or bust.
So far, it’s been an awful lot of the latter. In his third start since the Trade Deadline, Weathers was hit hard in the Padres’ 7-0 loss to the Marlins on Wednesday afternoon at Petco Park. He allowed three homers and six runs while laboring his way through 4 2/3 innings. In 12 starts prior to the Deadline, Weathers had never allowed five runs. He’s now allowed at least six runs in three straight outings.
“[The command] is just not there right now,” Weathers said. “I’ve never had issues with it. So I’m trying to figure it out. It’s just not there.”
Indeed, this is a noticeably different pitcher from the one who held a 2.61 ERA on July 1. Weathers has allowed too much hard contact, but he also isn’t fooling hitters. His deception, once a staple, has deserted him.
Perhaps Weathers is fatiguing, working into the dog days of a big league schedule for the first time. Perhaps opponents have begun to figure out his arsenal. The Padres steadfastly believe that the issues plaguing Weathers are eminently fixable.
“It is something, I think, over the next couple days we can work on and see if we can get him going,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “I do think we have some ideas, and we need to get to work on those.”
Whatever the reason, the Padres -- in the midst of a fierce playoff race -- are staring down an important two-faceted question with Weathers. First, can he snap out of his current funk, at least enough to solidify the back end of their pitching staff? Second, if the answer is no, how on earth do they cover those innings?
A healthy Paddack would go a long way toward solving that problem. But the Padres are determined to bring Paddack along slowly. Oblique injuries are tricky, and it's simply too important that San Diego has him back healthy for the stretch run. He won't be rushed back.
As for the final spot, it still belongs to Weathers, despite his recent performance. Tingler made that abundantly clear, leading off his postgame press conference by saying of Weathers: “Four or five days ‘til the next one.”
“The velo, the arm speed, all that stuff is right there,” Tingler said. “He’s going to continue to get the ball. We’re going to need him to pitch and pitch well. I do think there’s plenty of gas left in the tank.”
The Padres have been careful to monitor Weathers’ workload this season, as he’s fluctuated between the bullpen and the rotation while also spending separate stints in the Minors and on the IL. Between Triple-A and the Majors, Weathers has thrown 79 2/3 innings this season -- well below his career high of 96 at Class A Fort Wayne in 2019.
If San Diego can’t answer the questions at the back end of its rotation, the club can theoretically still thrive come October. The issue is getting to the postseason in the first place. In that regard, the Padres could sure use a Weathers bounceback. San Diego (66-50) leads Cincinnati (61-54) by 4 1/2 games for the second NL Wild Card spot, while rapidly fading from the NL West picture.
With an eight-game deficit and a lack of organizational pitching depth elsewhere, it feels borderline impossible to envision a world in which the Padres creep back into the NL West picture without a strong finish from Weathers. That would require quite a turnaround. But Weathers insists he’s up for it.
“Baseball has a lot of highs and lows,” Weathers said. “I promise you, it’s going to make me a lot tougher pitcher, getting through this.”