OAKLAND -- Austin Nola's first full season with the Padres hasn’t gone as planned, ravaged by injuries that have limited him to handful of appearances. The previous couple days, then, have been a momentous step forward.
Nola was at the center of San Diego's 8-1 win over the A’s on Tuesday, totaling a season-high four hits, two RBIs and one run scored in his best offensive night of the season.
“I’ve been feeling good,” said Nola, who was not in the lineup for Wednesday's series finale at the Coliseum. “Just getting more at-bats and trying to see the pitch well, see it as best as I can and put a good swing on a good pitch in the zone, and put up a good at-bat for my teammates. That’s what they’re doing.”
Tuesday was just the second four-hit game of Nola's career. With the backstop now riding a five-game hitting streak, Nola is trending in the right direction, a great sign given how this season has unfolded this far.
Nola sustained a fractured middle finger on his left hand in mid-March due to a foul tip. He missed the first 25 games of the season and didn’t debut until April 28. Less than a month later, Nola hit the injured list on May 28 with a left knee sprain, which caused him to miss all of June and most of July. The injuries left Nola, whom San Diego acquired last season in a deal headlined by Top 100 prospect Taylor Trammell, frustrated.
In recent weeks, Nola’s fortunes have flipped. Since returning from the injured list, Nola is slashing .364/.400/.455 across 25 plate appearances while providing a steady presence behind the plate.
“Had some big hits for us and continues to catch very well behind the plate,” manager Jayce Tingler said. "The way he receives and the game-calling. The way he’s moving back there. A lot of positives with his growth and just with his health. A lot of positive steps in the right direction.”
Nola should provide San Diego with some much-needed production behind the plate. Without him in the lineup, San Diego’s catchers have a combined fWAR of –0.9.
Victor Caratini, who has been the Padres' starting catcher in Nola’s absence, has seen a drastic dip in production with the increased workload.
In a career-high 586 1/3 innings behind the plate (Caratini’s previous career high for a full season was 426 innings), he has been worth –8 Defensive Runs Saved and ranked in the 21st percentile of framing entering Wednesday. Those numbers are shocking given that he was a net-positive defender with the Cubs, but not all that surprising given how much added responsibility he’s assumed.
With Nola back in the fold, not only does San Diego get back its starting catcher, but Caratini has the chance to get more rest, which could make him more effective when he does take the field.
The Padres’ pursuit of consistently operating at full strength took another detour when Fernando Tatis Jr. landed on the injured list on Saturday, but with Nola back and producing, San Diego inches just a little closer to being the most complete team possible.
Struggling OFs have big games
The last couple weeks haven’t been kind to either Tommy Pham or Trent Grisham, who have both been mired in cold spells. Tuesday night, however, was a step in the right direction for both struggling outfielders.
Both had two-hit, two-RBI nights, with Pham kicking off the team’s eight-run game with a leadoff homer off A's starter Sean Manaea. Grisham didn't clear the fences, but the National League Gold Glove Award center fielder made one of the best defensive plays of his career, diving to rob Elvis Andrus of extra bases. With a catch probability of just 25 percent, Grisham’s diving grab was a five-star catch.
“That ball he ran down in right-center, that was one of the better plays I’ve seen him make, and that says a lot,” Tingler said.
Since July 20, Grisham and Pham were a combined 11-for-85 (.129 batting average) entering Wednesday, slumps that have coincided with San Diego’s low offensive numbers in recent weeks.