Young left-handers have clear opportunities

March 10th, 2021

The future seems undeniably bright for , and -- the trio of 22-and-under left-handers in Padres camp this spring.

But that future is of little concern to the Padres right now. In the present, there are roster spots to be won. And suddenly all three feel like serious candidates.

"I don't see how you can see it another way," Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. "You guys can do the math."

Let's do that math, then.

The Padres almost certainly will open the season by carrying 14 pitchers. They built a five-deep rotation during the offseason, and they have eight relievers with seemingly secure places.

That leaves one available pitching job. Logically, how could it not go to one of those three?

With doubtful for Opening Day following offseason surgery on his right patellar tendon, and slated to miss the season because of Tommy John surgery, is the only lefty bullpen lock. Plus, with Strahm unavailable, there aren't many (or maybe any) Padres relievers who can provide significant length.

"Some of the arms we have in the bullpen, we've got a lot of guys that, historically, have been one-inning guys," Tingler said. "The importance of having length in the bullpen and being able to go multiple innings -- I think it's always valuable."

OK, so that's one place available for a long man in the 'pen. Let's throw another variable into the equation: the health status of .

The Padres remain optimistic about Lamet's progress. But it's clear they're taking things slowly. Lamet hasn't gotten into game action this spring, and he's slated to throw multiple innings for the first time in a simulated game later this week.

Even if Lamet checks all the boxes in that sim game, he won't get into Cactus League action until, say, March 18 at the absolute earliest. That would leave Lamet with only three outings to prepare for the season. Judging by the way the Padres have slow-played Lamet thus far, it's difficult to envision rushing him through those starts to have him ready for the Opening Day roster.

Perhaps that's the crux of Tingler's "math." There's clear opportunity available to those three. On paper, they might be competing for two places among them -- one spot as the team's tentative No. 5 starter and one spot as swingman.

That swingman should probably be expected to start a few games, too, considering the Padres' April calendar. Tingler was asked on Wednesday about the early season schedule, and he said he hadn't dug in too deeply, other than...

"I think 24 games in 25 days to kick things off," Tingler said, sounding like a man fully aware of the early season challenges that await his pitching staff.

The Padres have made it clear they will slow-play their rotation this year, as their starting pitchers build from 60 games back to 162. It's a safe bet Tingler uses a sixth starter for portions of that early April schedule before it eases up later in the month.

Those early starts in the fifth and sixth rotation spots would almost certainly be divvied up among Weathers, Gore and Morejon. It's just a matter of who wins those two roster spots. All three have showed flashes of their immensely high ceilings this spring. All three have offered reminders that they have room to grow, as well.

Gore, for instance, dealt with some command issues, allowing two runs in the Padres’ 7-5 loss to the Rockies on Wednesday afternoon. But he also recorded four strikeouts while facing 10 batters, and induced eight swings-and-misses.

“He’s super frustrated, because it’s so close,” Tingler said. “The swing-and-miss, it’s there. It’s so close, and then some pitches get away from him.”

Gore -- ranked as MLB Pipeline’s top pitching prospect and No. 6 overall -- made it clear he understands what’s at stake.

“We’re here for a reason,” he said after facing the Rockies. “What is it -- 100 more games this year? We’re going to need some arms. We’ve just got to keep getting better, and whoever makes the team makes the team. But we’re going to be ready.”

As for his own chances of earning a big league callup for Opening Day, Gore said simply: “It’s March 10. I have no idea.”

Indeed, later this month, the Padres will choose. For now, they can bask in the process of solving such a riddle -- choosing among three electric left-handers, each 22 years old or younger.

"Ever since I've been around all three of them, I think they've shown skill beyond their age," Tingler said. "It's just so unique to have three lefties, 21-22 years old, with the stuff they have, mid-to-upper 90s and secondary pitches. You just don't see a lot of that."

Come next month, the Padres might be seeing it plenty.

Worth noting
• Shortstop went through a full day of workouts and is expected to return to the lineup either Thursday or Friday after dealing with what Tingler called "a bug."

• Right-hander is being re-evaluated as he deals with an injury to his right elbow. The precise nature of Nix’s injury remains unclear, but, according to a source, it’s a potentially serious injury and Tommy John surgery has been discussed. Nix was expected to open the season as a depth starting pitching option in the Minors.

• Utility player missed his third consecutive game on Wednesday as he deals with groin tightness, but Tingler noted that he's expected to return to the lineup on Thursday.

• The Padres added two prospects to big league camp on Wednesday -- catcher Jonny Homza and left-hander .