SAN DIEGO -- Fernando Tatis Jr. might have company in the early National League MVP conversation. The dude to his right in the San Diego infield belongs there, too.
Third baseman Manny Machado, the hottest hitter on the planet, homered three more times on Thursday afternoon as San Diego split its doubleheader with the Mariners at Petco Park. In an 8-3 loss in Game 2, Machado’s blast in the first inning extended his hitting streak to nine games.
Those hits have not come cheaply, either. Machado is absolutely scorching, going 19-for-36 with seven home runs during this nine-game stretch. Two of those home runs came during a stunning, come-from-behind, walk-off 10-7 victory in the first of two seven-inning tilts on Thursday.
The Padres were unable to rekindle that magic for Game 2 after right-hander Garrett Richards surrendered six runs in the top of the first. But Machado rekindled his.
“He’s dialed in,” manager Jayce Tingler said between games. “He’s laying off the right pitches, seeing lanes well. He’s seeing spin, seeing the ball extremely well. And he’s just not missing any barrels."
Despite his slow start, Machado is hitting .294/.382/.635 while playing an outstanding third base. Since he began his nine-game hitting streak last week in Texas, his OPS has risen by a ridiculous 281 points.
Machado was honored as the National League Player of the Week on Monday, and he might be in for a repeat. (The Padres head to Colorado for a four-game series this weekend, and Machado owns a career .939 OPS at Coors Field.)
“He’s going to crush anything you leave out over the plate,” said a knowing Richards, who faced Machado plenty in the American League over the years. “You only have so much room to work with. … He’s a tremendous player.”
Only one player in Padres history has taken home MVP honors -- Ken Caminiti in 1996. From the outset of the 2020 campaign, Tatis seemed like an obvious candidate to join him. Now it looks like Machado also has a chance to follow in the footsteps of one of the franchise’s all-time greats at third base.
Machado, a four-time All-Star, has never finished higher than fourth in MVP voting. The Padres haven’t had anyone finish in the top three since Caminiti.
Past the midway point in 2020, they have a couple deserving candidates.
Another short start for Richards
Last Friday night, despite having allowed just one run over two innings against the Astros, Richards got an early hook. Although he had worked his way out of some trouble, he’d run his pitch count up, and the Padres decided to prioritize his health.
That wasn’t their justification on Thursday. Richards was removed early again -- and this time he wasn’t escaping any trouble.
The Mariners tagged Richards for six runs in the first inning, and he exited having only recorded two outs. José Marmolejos launched a one-out grand slam to put Seattle on top, 5-0. Shed Long Jr. would tack on another run two batters later, ending Richards’ evening.
“I’m nibbling a little bit right now instead of just trusting my ball in the zone,” Richards said. “I feel like a huge letdown right now. I feel like I put the bullpen in a crippling situation moving into Colorado.”
There might be a silver lining to Richards’ consecutive short starts. Tingler noted that Richards might be eligible to return this weekend in Colorado, given that the Padres have openings in their rotation for two of those games. Richards said he’d be open to it.
“It’s definitely an option,” Tingler said. “I think the main thing is: We’ve got to get Garrett right.”
Left-hander Joey Lucchesi joined the team on the taxi squad and is also an option to start this weekend.
Mateo on the board
The Padres envisioned a much bigger role for Jorge Mateo when they landed him in a June trade with Oakland. But Mateo tested positive for COVID-19 upon intake screening, and when he finally arrived after a three-week delay, Jake Cronenworth had solidified himself as the everyday second baseman.
As such, Mateo has been relegated to a bench role, mostly as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner. He filled that role nicely on Thursday afternoon.
Mateo recorded his first big league hit with a ringing double to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning. Given his elite speed, it would’ve easily been a triple, too, had the ball not hopped the right-center-field fence.
“Great for him to get his first hit today,” Tingler said. “He’s in a tough role, being a young player. Right now, it’s been some pinch-hitting, things like that. I think he adds real value in some pinch-running situations. … Hopefully he continues to give us some good at-bats and play defense, and I feel confident he’s going to steal a big base for us down the road.”