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Padres have new approach to outfield defense

@AJCassavell
May 14, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- When, exactly, did the Padres realign their outfield? It's hard to pinpoint an exact moment. They never made an announcement that Wil Myers had become their primary center fielder. They never declared Hunter Renfroe and Franmil Reyes as their everyday corner outfielders. And yet, it's clear the

LOS ANGELES -- When, exactly, did the Padres realign their outfield? It's hard to pinpoint an exact moment. They never made an announcement that Wil Myers had become their primary center fielder. They never declared Hunter Renfroe and Franmil Reyes as their everyday corner outfielders.

And yet, it's clear the Padres have a new everyday outfield. Reyes has started every game in right field this month. Renfroe has started in left in every game but two. Myers is clearly the primary center-field option, at the start of games at least.

"We like this lineup to start games right now," said Padres manager Andy Green. "We think it's got the most punch in it, and the opportunity to do the most damage."

That leaves center fielder Manuel Margot on the bench, even though he's played every game but one this month -- generally coming off the bench as a late-inning replacement.

Myers, meanwhile, is a subpar defender in center field, but he's above average in left. Renfroe (and his cannon) is probably better suited for right field, while Reyes' defensive shortcomings mean the club feels he's best suited for the bench in late-and-close situations when the Padres lead.

"It's still something that, as we get to the later innings with a lead, we try to change it out to get to a more premium defense," Green said. "Sometimes you make a change defensively, and you get better at one spot. For us, if we make that change and put Manny Margot out there, we get better at three spots on the field. It's always an intriguing decision to know when to pull that trigger."

"We understand in the seventh, eighth inning, when there are pitching changes, if you're the last out, you expect it," Renfroe said. "Whether it's me taken out, or Franmil taken out, you know it's coming."

The strategy has largely been effective. The Padres have consciously sacrificed defense in their outfield this year. But as a team, they still sit in the middle of the pack in defensive runs saved (13th) and outs above average (12th).

That might be a product of positioning. The team has made a concerted effort to mask its outfielders' flaws by playing them deeper. They're more willing to get beat for a single than to get beat over their heads for extra bases.

Take a look at the team's average positioning at all three spots:

Left field
2018: 298 feet, T-9th
2019: 304 feet, T-2nd

Right field
2018: 300 feet, 3rd
2019: 304 feet, T-2nd

Center field
2018: 317 feet, T-20th
2019: 325 feet, 6th

Myers, meanwhile, has played an average of 329 feet from home plate -- seventh deepest among 49 qualifying center fielders who have seen 1,000 pitches at the position.

As for Green's day-to-day decision-making, he says he's influenced by a different factor every day. The opponent obviously matters. (Against Clayton Kershaw, for example, the Padres want their three big right-handed bats in the lineup.)

But the Padres' starting pitcher matters, too. Chris Paddack, for instance, spends most of his time striking hitters out -- or at least inducing weak contact to infielders. He's gotten 120 hitters out this season, only 23 via fly balls to the outfield.

"We've used all different pieces of information to make that determination -- what park we're playing in, who's on the mound, what we think is likely to happen," Green said. "We've used every bit of it. It's a different piece of the equation every day."

Noteworthy
• The Padres had initially hoped that righty reliever Trey Wingenter would return to the big league club on Tuesday -- the first day he'd be eligible to return from the injured list. Wingenter wasn't reinstated, as he fights his way back from right-shoulder inflammation. But the club received some positive news nonetheless.

The tall right-hander threw a bullpen session for the first time on Tuesday afternoon. The Padres are mulling the next step toward his return -- most likely one more bullpen session before his reinstatement. Wingenter, whose absence has loomed large in a beleaguered Padres bullpen, will be evaluated on Wednesday before the next course of action is determined.

Dinelson Lamet is pitching regularly against hitters during extended Spring Training in Peoria, Ariz. Reports on the hard-throwing right-hander have been overwhelmingly positive, Green said. Lamet is still facing a lengthy rehab assignment as he builds his strength following 2018 Tommy John surgery. It's unclear when that assignment might begin.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.