Padres' bullpen win has postseason feel

August 11th, 2020

Twenty-seven outs, no restraints. In a shortened season with expanded rosters, that suddenly seems like a viable strategy for shepherding a pitching staff through nine innings.

Worked like a charm for Padres manager Jayce Tingler on Monday night.

Tingler used his middle-innings guys to start, his starter for the middle innings and as his closer. The end product? A statement 2-1 victory over the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

has seen that kind of anything-goes pitching strategy before.

“It’s how a postseason game’s played,” said Hosmer, who singled home the go-ahead run in the sixth inning. “That’s exactly how our team’s built.”

When the Padres optioned starter Joey Lucchesi to their alternate site last week, they left a place open in their starting rotation. Given the effectiveness of Monday’s strategy, it might stay open for a while.

The Padres spent the offseason crafting one of the sport’s deepest bullpens, and despite some early struggles, that depth is beginning to pay off. For instance, Tingler noted that closer Kirby Yates had been dealing with minor “tightness, soreness in his body” ahead of Monday’s game. So he gave his ace relief weapon the night off and called for Pomeranz to breeze through a 1-2-3 ninth.

“Obviously, we believe in those guys; otherwise, we wouldn’t have done what we did today,” said Tingler.

was the starter, however loosely defined that term is these days. He pitched an inning, then turned the ball over to lefty , who was given a handful of favorable matchups. The Dodgers had loaded their lineup with left-handed bats, and they weren’t likely to pinch-hit with the righty looming.

Sure enough, Quantrill entered with the Padres trailing 1-0 in the fourth and promptly worked his way out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam. He struck out Matt Beaty with a filthy slider on the inside corner -- perhaps the most important pitch of the night -- then got Edwin Ríos to line into a double play.

The Padres tied the game half an inning later on -- of all things -- a home run from slumping righty-hitter against righty-killer Dustin May, Hedges’ first home run of the season. From there, Quantrill settled in for three scoreless frames, retiring the last eight men he faced after loading the bases in the fourth.

In a traditional season, perhaps Quantrill would’ve already filled that open rotation spot. He’s pitched well enough to earn it. But Quantrill, to his credit, has made it clear that he’s open to filling just about any role on the San Diego pitching staff. It’s precisely what makes him so valuable.

“Twenty-eight man rosters, we’ve got a whole bunch of studs on this team. Whatever we need to do to win, we’re on board,” Quantrill said. “If that means three innings here, six innings there, one inning here, it really doesn’t matter to us.

“Win every single game; it doesn’t matter how you gotta do it.”

Of course, “how you gotta do it” changes when a season lasts 60 games and teams have 28-man rosters. There’s a heightened sense of urgency each night, and managers can lean into that, given the depth they’ve been afforded.

The Padres currently have 15 pitchers on staff. When two or three are sidelined for a day, it’s not all that different from a fully fresh bullpen in a traditional season. If Yates is available -- and Tingler expressed optimism that he would be -- the Padres enter Tuesday’s game with plenty of rested arms.

“With a regular 25-, 26-man roster, it would be a little bit more challenging,” Tingler said. “But at the same time, that’s the advantage of having an extra pitcher or two.”

It’s unclear whether Monday’s exact formula will translate to Saturday against the D-backs (presumably the next time the Padres will encounter the possibility of a bullpen day). Quantrill is a good bet to pitch. But in what capacity? And how likely are Perdomo and Strahm to remain his early innings complements?

That strategy worked on Monday. But it’s subject to change every time Tingler uses it -- based on the opponent, the setting and the pitchers he has available.

“We have plans,” Tingler said. “At the end of the day, it’s about the players executing, and my credit goes to those guys. They all stepped up against a very tough lineup and made pitches.”