PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Padres have touted a balancing act with superstar shortstop-turned-right-fielder Fernando Tatis Jr. this spring.
Tatis hasn't played a game for the big league club in nearly 17 months. He’s since undergone a trio of surgeries, including two -- a wrist strengthening procedure and a shoulder repair -- from which he's only just returning.
As such, San Diego must find a way to use Cactus League play to reacclimate Tatis to game action. At the same time, the club must ensure his health remains intact. On Tuesday, Tatis and the Padres’ staff met to discuss his plan for the spring, and manager Bob Melvin laid out some of that plan during his media session Wednesday.
"He wants to play yesterday," Melvin said. "He wants to play the first game. He's not going to play in the first game. It'll be within the first week, but we want to make sure he does everything that he's going to have to acclimate to in games."
Tatis must still serve the remaining 20 games on his PED suspension, which means he's ineligible to return to the Padres until April 20 at the earliest. With his regular-season debut nearly two months away, there's almost no reason for San Diego to push him.
Since his early arrival in camp, Tatis has exclusively played outfield. The Padres haven’t ruled out reps for him at shortstop. But with Xander Bogaerts on board, Tatis seems destined to be the team’s primary right fielder. Melvin cited another reason for the outfield focus:
"As far as health goes, there's a little bit less on his plate in the outfield than having to play shortstop," Melvin said. "He's been through a couple surgeries. He hasn't played in a game basically in 15 months. Part of easing him in probably is outfield exclusively at the start."
Melvin did leave open the possibility that Tatis could play some shortstop later in camp. (It’s worth noting that the team’s two primary shortstops, Bogaerts and Ha-Seong Kim, will be departing the club to play in the World Baseball Classic next month.)
Still, the primary focus remains Tatis’ health. He recently said his left shoulder was back to 100 percent and his left wrist felt close to it. Both will be put to the test soon enough.
“There’s an instinctual component when you play,” Melvin said. “We want to make sure he checks all the boxes -- trying to slide feet first, getting him diving back into first, getting him to do a lot of things that he’s going to have to do. ‘OK, that’s how that feels.’ Then once we get through all that, you’ll see him in games.”
Melvin seemed to acknowledge on Wednesday that there's presently only one spot available in the team's Opening Day bullpen. If Drew Pomeranz opens the season with the club, that is. (The veteran left-hander hasn't pitched since flexor tendon surgery in August 2021.)
"We'll see where we go with him at the end of spring," Melvin said. "In Spring Training, you want to get through healthy. But if all goes well, it's not difficult to forecast what the bullpen's going to look like, less one spot. ... But, man, there are a lot of quality guys that we have to draw from in the bullpen."
That projected Opening Day bullpen includes Josh Hader, Robert Suarez, Luis García, Tim Hill, Nabil Crismatt and Pomeranz. Among those in the mix for the seventh and final spot: Steven Wilson, Adrian Morejon, Jose Lopez, Craig Stammen, José Castillo and Michel Baez.
Castillo and Baez, who have been plagued by various injuries over the past few seasons, are back to full health. Both threw live bullpen sessions on Wednesday and have impressed early in camp.
Broadcast schedule announced; Martinez starts opener
The Padres announced their Spring Training broadcast schedule on Tuesday evening, with all 31 preseason games available via TV, radio or webcast. Bally Sports San Diego will televise 17 games, including Friday's Cactus League opener vs. the Mariners. Seven other games will be shown via free webcast, with basic video and the team's radio broadcast.
Melvin confirmed that right-hander Nick Martinez will start Friday's lid-lifter against Seattle, followed by lefties Ryan Weathers and Jay Groome. Martinez, who was recently added back to Team USA for the World Baseball Classic, is building toward a starter's workload, and -- considering his role with Team USA -- must do so a bit quicker than usual.