Kim does a worthy Tatis impression

August 2nd, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres are without their superstar shortstop, but they’re still getting superstar production at short these days, no matter who plays there.

On Sunday, it was , the rookie infielder who is expected to do some heavy lifting while Fernando Tatis Jr. is on the injured list. Kim was excellent defensively in the series finale against the Rockies -- though that’s nothing new.

But it was Kim’s bat that carried the Padres to a much-needed 8-1 victory at Petco Park. He doubled home two runs in a four-run first inning, then he launched a mammoth solo homer to the second deck in left field in the sixth. He even channeled Tatis the showman, flexing as he returned to the dugout after the homer, his sixth of the season.

“No one in the league can fill [what] Tatis brings to the game,” Kim said through an interpreter. “All I’m trying to do is go out there, do what I can do best, defensively, offensively, just trying to help the team win. That’s all I’m thinking about.”

It marked the second consecutive day that a Padres shortstop not named Fernando Tatis Jr. went deep, after Jake Cronenworth did so on Saturday. Meanwhile, Cronenworth, playing first base on Sunday, went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles.

And therein lies the solution to the Padres’ shortstop question. No, they’re not going to replicate Tatis’ MVP-level production. But maybe they can withstand his absence with contributions from Kim and Cronenworth. So far, so good.

“Tatis is obviously one of the top talents in the game,” Tingler said. “But we’re certainly capable. Nobody has to do too much. We’ve just got to bring our A-game, individually and collectively.”

The Padres are still hopeful that they’ll get their best player back at some point later this month. Tatis suffered another partial dislocation of his left shoulder on Friday night, this one seemingly a bit worse than what he’d previously endured.

Season-ending surgery is an option if the shoulder doesn’t improve. But the Padres don’t anticipate that. Tatis has bounced back quickly from the same injury already this year. If, indeed, surgery is the long-term answer, the hope is that it won’t need to happen until the offseason.

Meantime, the Padres still need to win games. They’re slipping in the National League West race and suddenly find themselves checking the rearview mirror, with the Reds making a push for the second NL Wild Card spot.

Ugly losses to the Rockies on Friday and Saturday night only served to heighten the sense of dread following Tatis’ injury. But Sunday’s victory -- a sorely needed one -- offered the perfect reminder of why the Padres remain dangerous, even without Tatis.

First and foremost, their bullpen is excellent. Right-hander Reiss Knehr pitched three innings of one-run ball in a spot start for the injured Chris Paddack. Then, the 'pen took over, with six scoreless frames.

“They were outstanding,” Tingler said.

That’s become a pretty common refrain. The San Diego bullpen has been the best in baseball this season with a 2.90 ERA. (Soon enough, it will add Daniel Hudson, Matt Strahm and Dinelson Lamet to its ranks, too.)

As for the Padres' offense, even without Tatis as the catalyst it remains one of the deepest in baseball. That’s especially true following the additions of Adam Frazier and Jake Marisnick before the Trade Deadline.

Marisnick gives the Padres some righty-hitting outfield depth, and a potential platoon in center field with the struggling Trent Grisham. Frazier, meanwhile, seems like an even better fit in Tatis’ absence. He’ll slide between second base and left field, and his versatility should help the Padres cover the infield vacancy.

So, what are the specifics of how the Padres replace Tatis going forward?

The first answer is: They don’t.

The second answer is: They can at least try. And the first two games without Tatis offer a reasonable blueprint for how to do so.

Facing a lefty on Sunday, Kim started at short, with the lefty-hitting Eric Hosmer sliding to the bench (where he chipped in with a pinch-hit RBI double in the fourth).

Facing a righty on Saturday, the Padres packed lefties Hosmer, Frazier and Cronenworth into the lineup and opted to sit Kim. On a different day, they might choose to prioritize Kim’s elite defense, sitting one of their two righty-hitting corner outfielders -- Wil Myers or Tommy Pham -- and sliding Frazier to the outfield.

“I expect it to be a complete team effort on all facets,” Tingler said. “We’re going to move some guys around the field. We’ll play some matchups, we’ll play some hot hands, we’ll play some gut feel. We’ll do all those things. But I do expect it to be a complete team effort with different guys contributing each and every night.”