WASHINGTON -- Upon learning of Fernando Tatis Jr.'s season-ending suspension Friday afternoon, the Padres’ reactions ran the gamut, from disappointment to anger to acceptance. But the universal reaction was surprise.
“Everybody was stunned,” manager Bob Melvin said.
“It’s something we obviously didn’t expect,” said Wil Myers.
“Devastated,” said Manny Machado.
Quickly, another reality set in. Although the Padres heavily preferred to get Tatis, one of the most talented and dynamic players in baseball, back for the stretch run and beyond, they also realize they’ve gotten this far without him. Their lineup is still fearsome and immensely deep. Their pitching was re-enforced at the Trade Deadline, despite Josh Hader’s early results. Their odds to make the playoffs remain excellent.
They’ve done all this waiting for Tatis to return from the wrist surgery he underwent in March, stemming from an offseason motorcycle accident. Now they know if they’re going to get where they want to be, it’ll need to be without him. And the first step in that process is coming to terms with that fact.
“He hasn’t been part of our team all year, and we’ve gotten this far without him,” Machado said. “We were waiting to get him back and hopefully be a spark plug for the team. But we’ve been doing it all year. Just continue doing it. Same message continues to go since day one … Continue to believe in the guys that we have here. I think we have the guys to get where we want to be. Obviously, with the Trade Deadline and what we did there, we reinforced the team and made the team a lot better. So just continue to keep playing as a team. We still have the same goal, which is to try to make a World Series and try to bring a championship to San Diego.”
That was the gist of the message Melvin and general manager A.J. Preller delivered in an emergency team meeting Friday, roughly 30 minutes prior to first pitch. San Diego then went out and blew out the Nationals for its third straight win. With their 4-3 loss on Saturday, the Padres have scored 33 runs in their past four games.
“Look at our lineup -- we still have a really good lineup,” Melvin said. “So I think that's what we have to take going forward. We liked our team before we were waiting for Tati, and we felt like we had a really good team coming out of spring, and then we made four really big moves that enhanced our roster and our club. So, we're comfortable with the team we have.”
The players then largely echoed that sentiment. Though nobody denied the kind of difference-maker adding a player of Tatis’ caliber would’ve been, all expressed confidence in the players already in the clubhouse, especially after San Diego added Juan Soto, Josh Bell and Brandon Drury at the deadline. Tatis also wasn’t expected to play everyday right away, either, given his injury history and short ramp-up period. And when he did, it was going to regularly be out of position in center field.
“We've got a great team already,” Myers said. That's obviously got to be the focus of the rest of season, going out there and winning ballgames with the current roster that we have.”
Said infielder Jake Cronenworth: “It stinks, but he hasn’t been with us all year. We’ve got a great team here and a great group of guys … a really talented team.”
That doesn’t mean the Padres are thrilled about it. Speaking to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Preller called “trust” between Tatis and the front office “something we haven’t really been able to have.” In the locker room, too, some were more pointed in their criticism of Tatis. If those relationships are repaired, it will come with time -- 2023 at the earliest.
“This is the second time we've been disappointed with him. You hope he grows up and learns from this and learns that it’s about more than just him right now,” right-hander Mike Clevinger said. “I think we’re going to be just fine. Look at this clubhouse. We really don’t need anybody else. It’d be nice to have somebody else, but we don’t need anybody else. We got everything we need right here.”