Here's what Tatis' return might look like

August 10th, 2022

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell’s Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Fernando Tatis Jr. is playing baseball again, and what a welcome bit of news that is.

Tatis began his rehab assignment with Double-A San Antonio over the weekend, and the Padres, in no uncertain terms, need him back in their lineup. They're in the thick of the National League Wild Card race, clinging to a one-game lead on Milwaukee after their fifth straight loss on Monday night. It's August, and only 50 games remain.

"There's not a lot of time left," manager Bob Melvin said. "So we want him here for as long as we possibly can."

The Padres refuse to put a timetable on Tatis' return, but it's getting closer. Melvin guessed "mid-August-ish." (Yes, that's purposely vague. No, he wouldn't elaborate.)

Whenever Tatis returns, here are a few observations on what it's going to look like:

He's going to play short and center
Mostly shortstop. But -- for all the upgrades they made at the Trade Deadline -- the Padres didn't bolster their center-field depth. Turns out, Tatis might be the solution.

When asked about his position, Tatis has always made two things clear: He views himself as shortstop. He's also open to playing elsewhere temporarily if it helps the team.

The Padres are confident enough in Tatis’ ability to play the outfield. On top of that, both center fielder Trent Grisham and shortstop Ha-Seong Kim have been solid lately and should garner some playing time down the stretch.

Grisham bats lefty. Kim bats righty. If Tatis can move between those two positions, the Padres would have a serviceable Kim/Grisham platoon.

He's not going to play every day
In an ideal world, Tatis would get a longer ramp-up period than the one he's getting right now. It’s been 10 months since Tatis last played a game. For the majority of that time, he wasn't even swinging.

"The part that you worry about is that there was no Spring Training and there was no lead-up to this," Melvin said. "There was really nothing he could do, other than condition his legs and his arm, so we'll see how it goes. But he's not going to be out in the field every day."

Melvin added that the Padres would make liberal use of the DH spot for Tatis when he returns. That could have a ripple effect on the rest of the lineup. (Wil Myers and Brandon Drury would have less of a path to playing time.)

On top of that, Melvin said Tatis is likely to receive a few scheduled off-days, where he'd be available exclusively as a pinch-hitter.

It's not ideal, but it's the best path to ensure his health, the Padres say. Plus, pinch-hitter Tatis is better than no Tatis at all.

Where does he bat?
Melvin conceded that, yes, he’s been jotting down some potential lineups for when Tatis makes his return.

Haven't we all?

I'm curious to see what it'll look like. With this much offensive firepower, there's no wrong answer. But I have a couple questions:

• Does Jurickson Profar -- who has made a name for himself by working counts and finding ways on base -- remain in the leadoff spot? Or do you get straight to the big boppers?

• Do you slot Juan Soto, a left-handed hitter, in between the righty-hitting Tatis and Manny Machado? Or do you bat him in front of both, because he's a perfect table-setter as perhaps the game's best on-base threat?

My take? I like what Profar's done in the leadoff spot enough to keep him there. He's just such a pest. It’s worth making that opposing pitcher work before he gets to the meat of the order. On top of that, those favorable late-game matchups for Soto are too good for me to pass up.

So here's what I'd draw up: