Will Padres use new rotation strategy in '21?

Musgrove honors Peavy with jersey number

February 20th, 2021

The Padres spent the offseason assembling a rotation full of No. 1 starters. Four members of their projected rotation started on Opening Day in the recent past, and the other -- Dinelson Lamet -- might be the favorite to do so this year.

Chris Paddack, who started the Padres' opener last season, was such a phenomenon during his 2019 rookie season that "Paddack Day" was an event. Now, he's the fifth starter in San Diego -- where, by definition, every day is Paddack Day or better.

Considering the top-level talent in their rotation, if the Padres wanted to, they could simply unleash those five arms and ask them to carry the load.

But -- and this is the important question -- why would they want to?

Injury concerns linger around Lamet's right elbow, and both Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove -- despite their accomplished careers -- have only cracked the 130-inning mark one time apiece.

But even those question marks aren't the reason the Padres might employ a different rotation strategy this season. Coming off a pandemic-shortened 60-game slate, it remains unknown how pitchers will handle the challenge of building back to 162.

"It's always a long ride to play deep into the playoffs and the World Series," said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. "Now, you talk about going from 60 games to 162, plus another month. In order for us to do it, there's a reason why we built this team the way we built it -- with depth.

"That may be that some guys get a little bit of a break. They may miss a day. We may move some guys back a day or skip a turn. Those are some of the options we'll have."

It seems entirely possible that the Padres open the season with a six-man rotation -- especially considering they open the year with 24 games in 25 days. In that case, Adrian Morejon is the likeliest candidate for the extra spot. The 21-year-old lefty is being stretched toward a starter's workload, though he won't be expected to work past five innings.

The Padres also have exciting options behind Morejon. MacKenzie Gore is their top pitching prospect and should make an impact this season. Ryan Weathers broke through in the bullpen last October, but he's back in a starter role again this spring.

As the Padres amassed starter after starter during the offseason, skeptics asked why. Were they blocking Gore's path? Was there enough room to allow the youngsters to thrive?

The Padres didn't view it that way. Quite the opposite, in fact. They felt they’d be doing a disservice to their current pitchers, if they didn't provide some cover.

It remains unclear how, exactly, the Padres will monitor their rotation's workload. How often will a sixth starter be part of the mix? When will their traditional starters be permitted to pitch into the eighth or ninth?

"You have to handle each pitcher individually," Tingler said. "We've got to be careful and not lump them all into one program. Knowing our guys in and out, knowing their individual programs -- historically how have they been built up? -- and trying to stay consistent with that."

That could mean different things for, say, Paddack and Snell. (Paddack has had a history of success working with an extra day of rest. Snell, meanwhile, didn't often work past the sixth inning with Tampa Bay.)

Ultimately, the Padres envision both Snell and Paddack at the center of a traditional five-man rotation, working deep into games. They just feel it's more important to have that in September and October rather than April and May.

Musgrove honors Peavy
After being traded from Pittsburgh to his hometown Padres, Musgrove made the switch from No. 59 to 44 this offseason. He's a fiery right-hander and was a childhood Padres fan -- so it's easy to see why.

"Coming to San Diego [it was] a chance to wear 44 and represent with a little nod to Jake Peavy, who was my favorite pitcher growing up, the guy that I watched -- not only the way he pitched and performed, but just who he was and the way he carried himself on the field," Musgrove said.

Musgrove was also asked about the possibility of hitting in Petco Park. In 102 career plate appearances, he's yet to go deep. What better place for home run No. 1?

"I would love my first one to be at Petco," Musgrove said. "Second deck, Western Metal maybe?"

Needless to say, Musgrove is thrilled to be a Padre. He says he's most excited that his grandmothers will be able to watch him on a regular basis.

Worth noting
• Right-hander Anderson Espinoza threw a bullpen session on Friday, as he continues his recovery from a pair of Tommy John surgeries that have kept him out of Minor League game action since 2016. Then the Padres' top-ranked prospect, Espinoza currently sits No. 13 in the system and is surely headed for a future bullpen role. But the Padres are still optimistic he can make an impact.

"The ball's coming out well, it's good velocity, and yesterday, he did a good job landing his secondary pitches for strikes," Tingler said. "Yeah, we're excited for him, and hopeful we keep going forward, making steps, keep progressing on the health side."

• Lamet threw a small number of sliders in his bullpen session on Friday, Tingler said, an important step as Lamet builds back from his October elbow injury last season. As is typical of many pitchers during the offseason, Lamet hadn't been throwing breaking pitches during his throwing sessions.