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Tatis' two hits a feat not seen since '75

@AJCassavell
March 28, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres made Fernando Tatis Jr. the youngest player to start on Opening Day in 20 years, in large part because they knew he'd be able to handle the stage. The 20-year-old shortstop wasted no time proving them right. Tatis recorded his first two big league hits

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres made Fernando Tatis Jr. the youngest player to start on Opening Day in 20 years, in large part because they knew he'd be able to handle the stage.

The 20-year-old shortstop wasted no time proving them right.

Tatis recorded his first two big league hits in the Padres' 2-0 season-opening victory over San Francisco on Thursday afternoon. He smacked a single through the left side in the second inning off Madison Bumgarner. Then he dropped a bunt single toward third base in the fifth.

With his 2-for-3 afternoon, Tatis became the youngest player to record a multi-hit game on Opening Day since a 19-year-old Robin Yount in 1975. At 20 years, 85 days old, Tatis is the youngest player to start an Opening Day game since Adrian Beltre in 1999 and the youngest Padre ever to do so.

"It came pretty fast, I won't lie," Tatis said of his big league callup. "But I think I played for it, I worked for it, and here we are."

The Padres feel the same way. Tatis earned his callup, service time considerations be darned. He was their best shortstop in Spring Training. And thus, he was in the Opening Day lineup batting sixth.

"It exceeded my expectations," Tatis said afterward. "The way the fans received me, it was amazing."

During pregame introductions, Tatis was greeted by a rousing ovation, one that rivaled prized free-agent signing Manny Machado. With his single in the second, Tatis joined Machado and Bryce Harper as the only 20-year-olds to record a hit on Opening Day this decade.

His bunt single in the fifth was even more eye-popping. Per Statcast, Tatis reached a sprint speed of 30.1 feet per second (30 is generally considered elite). He got down the line in 3.82 seconds, which was faster than all but five Padres times last season.

It wasn't just the five tools that had the San Diego clubhouse buzzing afterward. It was the savvy beyond his years.

"That's super impressive, man," first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "Dropping a bunt down in your second at-bat in the big leagues, that shows you where his head's at. He's trying to win a ballgame. He's not fazed. He's not overmatched by the situation at all."

Tatis is the crown jewel of the sport's top-ranked farm system. He's MLB Pipeline's No. 2-ranked prospect, and the top shortstop. He posted a .280/.358/.487 slash line in three Minor League seasons. Still, the decision to promote Tatis came as something of a surprise.

If the Padres had waited 16 days, they'd have gained an extra year of team control on Tatis in 2025. General manager A.J. Preller called the move "a baseball decision," but he was quick to cast aside the idea that he's pushing his chips into the middle earlier than he should.

"This thing has been built to have long-term success," Preller said. "With Fernando breaking on the big league team, it doesn't change anything for us in terms of what our plan is, our process is and what we're trying to accomplish this year and over the course of the next five years."

With a boatload of talent at the lower levels of the Minor Leagues, Preller hasn't been shy about promoting his top prospects. Fellow top-five youngsters Chris Paddack and Francisco Mejia also made the roster. Left-hander Nick Margevicius will debut Saturday.

"They believe in us, and also we've done the job," Tatis said. "It was not gifted to us. We've been working hard, and it's paid off."

Tatis, the youngest player to suit up for the Padres since Roberto Alomar in 1988, is going to continue playing regularly at shortstop. If he struggles early, both Preller and manager Andy Green have made it clear they're willing to stick with their top prospect.

In the Minor Leagues, Tatis typically required an adjustment period every time he jumped a level. He'd struggle for a few weeks, then ultimately rose to the occasion.

Maybe that won't be necessary in the big leagues. Maybe Tatis will thrive from the start in the same way rookies Juan Soto of the Nationals and Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Braves did last season.

He's already got one big-time performance in the books.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.