ATLANTA -- The Padres have a boatload of big-name pitching prospects, most of whom were high Draft picks or big-money international signings. Nick Margevicius isn't one of them.
Those prospects, for the most part, boast mid-90s fastballs with electric offspeed pitches that scouts dream of. Margevicius doesn’t.
And yet, with every start he makes, the 22-year-old lefty is making a case that he’s here to stay. In the Padres’ 3-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night, Margevicius allowed one earned run over 5 2/3 frames. Through his first month in the big leagues, he’s made six starts with a 3.23 ERA.
Sure, he was a seventh-round pick less than two years ago, with a fastball that rarely hits 90 mph. But the longer Margevicius sustains his success, the more he becomes a legitimate long-term option for San Diego’s wide-open rotation of the future.
“He knows he belongs here,” said Padres skipper Andy Green. “He's confident on the mound that he can get guys out. The guys he's running through right now, they’re as good of [hitters] as you’re going to see.”
That isn’t bluster. The past week offered a serious litmus test for any young lefty. Margevicius faced Seattle and Atlanta, statistically two of the Majors’ three best teams against left-handed pitchers by most metrics. (Houston is the other.)
“I was really excited for the challenge,” Margevicius said. “That's how you measure yourself -- against good hitters. And I thought today went pretty well.”
In those two starts, Margevicius allowed three earned runs over 10 2/3 innings. His teammates got sloppy behind him in the third and fourth innings on Monday. Yet, Margevicius worked around three errors and allowed just two unearned runs. Considering the circumstances, that was the best the Padres could have asked for.
“Bear down; make your pitches,” Margevicius said. “They pick me up so many times, and there are so many plays that shouldn't be made that they make. When things like that -- rarely -- happen to them, you step up, and you make pitches.”
That mindset is precisely what gave the Padres the confidence to make Margevicius the final piece in their rotation puzzle last month -- even though he had never made a regular-season start above Class A Advanced.
But Margevicius’ no-nonsense disposition is only worth so much. He also needs to pitch. It remains something of a mystery why his stuff has translated so well at the big league level. The Padres feel it’s a mix of guile, conviction and precision.
Margevicius doesn’t get squared up often, and when he does, it’s generally not his fault. Ozzie Albies, for instance, launched a fifth-inning homer on a pitch three inches below the strike zone. Otherwise, the Braves didn’t do much damage.
“We're very encouraged with the way he's throwing the ball,” Green said. “People are going to adjust to him. They're going to see him more than once. But we do think he's a guy who has enough of a mix to continue to stay one step in front.”
Blunder on a bunt
Fernando Tatis Jr., the Padres’ star-in-the-making at shortstop, is currently sidelined with an ailing hamstring. His absence showed up in a big way on Monday.
Tatis has been the offensive catalyst during the season’s first month, and the Padres could’ve used his bat against Braves righty Mike Soroka. But without Tatis’ excellent glove, the Padres turned to Greg Garcia at short. He hadn’t played a game there this season, and it showed.
In the third inning, Soroka dropped a bunt toward first base. Eric Hosmer charged hard and had a play at second. But Garcia turned his head toward first, believing the play was there.
The ball sailed past Garcia -- and past center fielder Manuel Margot toward the warning track. The first Braves’ run scored, and Soroka reached third. He would score one batter later on Albies’ RBI single. Garcia, to his credit, took full ownership.
“This is the big leagues,” Garcia said. “You cannot make mistakes like that. I feel like I let my team down. Nick pitched a great game, and I feel like I really shifted the momentum in a bad way for us there. That just can’t happen at this level.”
An inning later, Garcia booted a routine grounder into a two-base error, though Margevicius managed to work around it without allowing a run.
“The ground ball, that’s physical,” Garcia said. “Not gonna lose sleep over that one. But the mental one cannot happen.”
Machado dazzles … again
The Padres signed Manny Machado to a record-setting contract as a third baseman. But if Tatis’ absence is prolonged, Machado might get some time back at short after all.
After a late double switch, Machado moved to shortstop, with Ty France filling in at third. With two on and two out in the eighth, Machado ranged to his right to field a Matt Joyce grounder, and he threw off-balance to first. It was right on the money, ending the threat.
The Padres’ offense couldn’t make it count.