SAN DIEGO – Even as the bulk of their offense has struggled in the early part of the season, the Padres have found themselves a useful recipe for success: pitching, defense and a whole lot of Manny Machado.
In the meantime, the Padres continued their record-setting errorless streak, having opened the season with 12 straight games without committing an error, the longest stretch since at least 1901.
“We’ve been playing really, really good baseball overall,” Machado said. “Offensively, we haven’t been doing what we’re capable of. But we’re about to start getting hot. We’re doing the little things that really matter. … It’s going to be fun when everything clicks.”
Machado stayed red-hot, going 3-for-4 with a homer and a double, falling a triple shy of the cycle on Monday. He scorched all three hits and is now batting .354 this season, while the rest of the San Diego offense has combined to hit just .211.
The Padres always knew they’d need Machado to anchor their offense while they await the return of Fernando Tatis Jr. from a fractured left wrist. (And on that front, they got a small bit of positive news on Monday.) Twelve games into the season, Machado has done his part.
“It just looks like he plays the game at a different pace than anybody else, because it’s so easy, it’s effortless,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “... What he means to this team and the big hits that he gets -- in some of these low-scoring games, he’s been the guy.”
Machado, of course, does it on both sides, having played his usual Gold Glove-caliber third base. For that, he was quick to credit the Padres pitching staff, noting simply: “They throw strikes, and they pitch fast.”
That statement might not be truer of any pitcher in baseball than Manaea.
“I might miss a couple pitches, the way he’s working,” Machado said, cracking a smile. “I’m over here talking to [shortstop Ha-Seong] Kim, and the pitch is coming. It’s fun to play behind him. He’s keeping us on our toes, and he’s keeping us in the ballgame."
Remember, it has been only two weeks since the Padres landed Manaea in a trade with Oakland a few days before the regular season was set to begin. At the time, the Padres seemed to be overflowing with starting pitching. Already, however, Manaea feels integral to this rotation mix.
He has worked at least six innings in all three of his starts, and on Monday night, Manaea needed just 78 pitches to get there. In a different setting, Melvin would’ve handed Manaea the ball for the seventh. But Manaea has essentially been pitching on four days’ rest since the start of Spring Training, without any extra off-days.
“I wasn’t going to let him throw much more than 80,” Melvin said. “If you look at his velo, it was probably around 88 in the last couple innings. He’s been working pretty hard. And one thing he’s done over his career is find a way to pitch when his best velocity’s not there. That’s what you saw tonight.”
Manaea's next start will presumably come on Sunday, his introduction to the Padres-Dodgers rivalry. He’ll enter that outing with an extra day of rest, as the Padres are slated for their first off-day of the season on Thursday.
On Monday night, former Padre Tommy Pham was the only Reds hitter who seemed to give Manaea any trouble. Pham homered in the first inning and had two more hits against Manaea, joining Machado in finishing a triple shy of the cycle.
“I just used my stuff effectively and tried to keep guys off-balance -- except for Tommy,” Manaea said. “I don’t know what I gave him.”
Moments after Pham had given the Reds the lead, however, Machado answered right back -- launching a 111.9 mph missile into the left-field seats for his second home run of the season.
“For him to come out and hit that home run, it immediately takes a little bit of pressure off me,” Manaea said. “Then you just go out there and work.”