With Opening Day approaching, here are 6 questions for Padres

March 16th, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- With only two weeks until Opening Day, there's still an awful lot to be sorted out in Padres camp.

Sure, the roster is loaded and, for the most part, healthy. But some very important questions must be resolved before March 30. Here are six of them:

1. 's race against the clock
The veteran left-hander has faced hitters several times already, and he pitched a simulated inning of about 25 pitches at the Peoria Sports Complex on Thursday. Pomeranz's next step would be his Cactus League debut.

After missing the entire 2022 season following flexor tendon surgery, Pomeranz could give the Padres' bullpen a huge boost. But he has been eased along slowly this spring, with the team prioritizing his long-term health over his Opening Day roster status.

But don't rule it out. Pomeranz has made it clear that Opening Day is his goal, and he might need only a couple of Cactus League outings to be ready for it.

2. Speaking of Opening Day ... what about ?
Darvish pitched two innings of relief in Team Japan's 9-3 quarterfinal victory over Italy in the World Baseball Classic on Thursday. On the one hand, that’s undeniably cool: Darvish doing whatever it takes to get his country back to Classic glory. But on the Padres’ side of things, it throws Darvish’s spring progression slightly out of whack.

On Thursday, manager Bob Melvin acknowledged that, depending on when Darvish pitches next, he might not be fully built up innings-wise for a potential Opening Day start. Darvish could still make that start with a limited pitch count. Or the Padres could bump Darvish off the Opening Day track, getting him a full Cactus League start on March 26 or 27, which could line him up to start the second or third game of the regular season. Stay tuned.

3. Replacing
The Darvish question might have been moot if Musgrove were healthy. Musgrove could have slotted seamlessly into the Opening Day job. But instead, he’s working his way back from a fractured left big toe.

The Padres, for what it’s worth, are blown away by the progress Musgrove has made, with Melvin calling it “miraculous.” Musgrove is already throwing bullpen sessions, and his stint on the injured list is likely to be much shorter than expected.

But the Padres still envision Musgrove beginning the season on the IL. Do they replace him by pivoting from a six-man rotation to five? Or do they entrust someone like with a starting role?

4. Filling out the pitching staff
Ten spots on the staff are secure, leaving three vacancies. One of those might be filled by Pomeranz, but with questions about Darvish’s length and the back end of the rotation, the Padres need to be certain of what they’re getting with him.

Of the remaining spots, is a strong favorite for one. The other will almost certainly go to a length arm, with Groome, , and as options.

If Pomeranz isn’t ready by Opening Day, the race for the final spot is wide open. , and are no longer in the mix due to injuries.

5. Filling out the bench
There are two openings to fill. Among those vying for bench roles: , , , and .

It once seemed unlikely the Padres would carry five exclusive outfielders. But Azocar and Dahl have impressed this spring. (Melvin noted that the versatility of , and ensures that every backup infield spot would be covered.)

“It would make it easier if one was an infielder, one was an outfielder, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be,” Melvin said. “… It’s what we feel like is going to give us our most versatility, and obviously, someone’s going to have to play well enough to make the team.”

6. Who’s in right?
Once the bench is settled, the Padres have a related question: Who plays right field while serves the remaining 20 games on his PED suspension?

There’s no singular answer, with a platoon expected. Dahl makes sense for a roster spot as a left-handed bat. Azocar and , meanwhile, are righty-hitting options. All three are excellent defensively.

Dixon is an option as well. Carpenter could play right in a pinch. Odor has said he’d be open to experimenting in the outfield. has had a sneaky good spring.

Indeed, there is plenty to sort through over the next two weeks.