Notes: Catching strategy; Hosmer out

July 30th, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- Before the season began, Padres manager Jayce Tingler refused to divulge his catching plans, other than to say that the glove-first and bat-first would split time.

But five games into the season an important aspect of Tingler's catching strategy has come into focus. Hedges and Mejía have played only one full game apiece. The other three games have seen late-game maneuvering from Tingler.

The breakdown is pretty simple: If Hedges starts, Mejía is available as an offensive replacement when the Padres are losing. If Mejía starts, Hedges is available as a defensive replacement when the Padres are winning.

Generally speaking, teams are often hesitant to use a catcher as a defensive replacement. But Hedges -- who owns a .200 career batting average but 52 defensive runs saved since 2017 -- fits that mold.

"It's certainly one of Hedges' strengths, what he can do defensively," Tingler said. "He makes the defensive part of the game -- some of the things that are really challenging, really hard -- those are actually some of the easiest things for him to do."

Leading by two in the eighth inning Tuesday night, Tingler called on Hedges as a defensive replacement. He caught two scoreless frames from Emilio Pagán and Drew Pomeranz, ending the game with consecutive called third strikes.

"I thought he was super impactful in the last two innings of last night's game, and that's not to take away anything from Mejía, because I thought Mejía was just outstanding with what he did behind the plate," Tingler said.

Indeed, the Padres have been impressed with Mejía's recent development. But he's not at Hedges' level, because few catchers -- if any -- are.

Given the differences in their skill sets, Tingler’s strategy makes plenty of sense. But it comes with plenty of risk.

If either Hedges or Mejía were to get hurt late in a game, infielder Ty France would be thrust into an emergency catcher role. (The Padres had France work extra behind the plate during camp, and they’re fine with that.)

But here's a more interesting scenario: Had the Giants rallied to take a lead in the bottom of the eighth on Tuesday night, Hedges would've come to the plate with the game on the line in the ninth. It's worth wondering if Tingler would've pinch-hit for him, knowing France was his only option behind the plate for the bottom of the ninth.

Before the season, Tingler might have given a hint regarding his answer to that question.

"I don't want to get into our strategy," he said. "But if we're trying to win each and every night, sometimes we've got to roll the dice."

Hosmer scratched again

For the third time in five games, Padres first baseman was a late scratch from the starting lineup as he battles "a non-COVID related illness" according to the team. Tingler noted that Hosmer has dealt with gastrointestinal issues throughout the season's first week.

It's a tough blow for the Padres, who could use Hosmer's run-producing bat. He has reached base in seven of 12 plate appearances this season, and he entered the day tied for the National League lead with seven RBIs, despite having missed two games.

In Hosmer's absence, Jake Cronenworth moved from second base to first, with Greg Garcia getting the start at second base in Hosmer's usual No. 5 spot in the order.

’Pen depth on display

Before Tuesday's game, the Padres decided to give closer Kirby Yates an extra day of rest after he threw 28 pitches in grinding through the ninth inning on Sunday. They trotted out quite a backup plan, using four other relievers they legitimately trust, including a closer who struck out all three hitters he faced in the ninth.

As the Padres constructed arguably the sport's deepest bullpen, this was precisely what general manager A.J. Preller envisioned. If he didn't have to push Yates on a nightly basis, the Padres would be better for it. So Preller re-signed Craig Stammen, traded for Emilio Pagán and Tim Hill and signed Pomeranz.

"Some teams you only have a few guys you can trust in those situations," said Pomeranz, who needed just 14 pitches to breeze through the middle of the Giants' order in the ninth inning. "The depth that we have gives guys a break when they need it and it can keep us fresh and balance everything out. You've got this big group of guys that are quality arms, and that can go a long way."

Another newfound quality arm is Javy Guerra, who has found a key middle-innings role thus far. A converted shortstop, Guerra's high-90s two-seam fastball has routinely kept opposing hitters off balance.

"We've got a team and a staff that's very confident in him," Tingler said. "It's nice to see him work through these situations. Inside, he's gaining more and more confidence, which is the most important thing."