Soto, Nola on track to return by Opening Day

Darvish to start Minors game Saturday; Odor getting looks in outfield

March 24th, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz -- The Padres were handed a late-spring injury scare, but both and are trending toward being available for Opening Day.

They each took steps in that direction on Friday, with Soto taking dry swings and going through a throwing progression while Nola caught Seth Lugo's bullpen session and went through a number of catching drills.

Soto is dealing with what the team is calling a mild left oblique strain. Nola, meanwhile, sustained a broken nose when he was hit by a pitch. Both injuries occurred this past Sunday -- 11 days before the Padres’ season opener against the Rockies.

"Today was kind of a big day [for Soto]," said Padres manager Bob Melvin. "If he can swing the bat, then we progress tomorrow, and we still have four more days left. He's a guy that was obviously swinging the bat well and was at the [World Baseball Classic], got plenty of at-bats there."

Indeed, Soto was one of the top performers at the Classic, batting .400 with a pair of home runs. That comes on the heels of his scorching hot showing early in Cactus League play.

Many in Padres camp believe Soto is on the verge of a monster season -- and they're hopeful he'll hit the ground running on Day 1.

The prognosis for Nola seems to be the same. San Diego isn’t making any declarations, but the club believes its starting catcher could return to game action potentially as soon as this weekend. That would line him up to catch Blake Snell in the opener.

After a scary scene last weekend in Mesa, in which Nola was bloodied and removed from the game, he came away with what he said was only a minor fracture and three stitches. Wearing his catching mask -- which Nola says already featured plenty of extra padding -- he says he doesn't feel any impact on his nose.

"I'm very thankful," Nola said. "I am. I'm so glad it's what it is and not the eyes, a concussion or any of that stuff."

Darvish to start Minors game; six-man rotation likely
With Snell officially tabbed for the Opening Day start, Melvin offered a bit of clarity on the progression for right-hander , who was in the running for that role until his schedule was thrown out of whack at the World Baseball Classic.

Darvish -- who pitched twice in relief for Team Japan during the knockout rounds, including the eighth inning of Tuesday's championship game against Team USA -- is slated to throw 3-4 innings in a Minor League game on Saturday.

Melvin noted that Darvish is expected to make a second start in Arizona after his outing on Saturday, meaning he presumably would be pushed to the back end of the starting rotation. That could line Darvish up to start against the D-backs on April 4 for the final game of the Padres' season-opening six-game homestand.

If indeed Darvish was to start that game, it would leave one spot open in what's now likely to be a six-man rotation to open the season. , who posted a 1.29 ERA in five spring outings, is a favorite for that role.

Outfield shakeup
The Padres are getting creative at the end of their bench, looking for as much versatility as possible.

For instance: , who hasn't played a game in the outfield in his career, started in left field in the team's Cactus League tilt against the Angels on Friday.

“I’m open to it because I’m open to winning,” Odor said earlier this month. “Whatever I can do to win, I’m going to do it. If the team needs me to play another position, I’m going to do it.”

Odor’s position switch is directly related to a left hamstring injury sustained by backup outfielder . Presumed to be the team’s No. 4 outfielder, Engel is now almost certain to miss out on the Opening Day roster.

That leaves as a virtual lock for a roster spot. It could also solidify ’s place -- with Dahl and Azocar potentially slated for a right-field platoon until Fernando Tatis Jr. returns from his suspension.

But there’s now one more place on the San Diego bench. If Odor can prove himself capable of handling the outfield, it might go a long way toward helping his roster chances.