SAN DIEGO -- Fernando Tatis Jr. just won’t stop hitting. The rest of the Padres’ offense joined him on Sunday afternoon.
In no uncertain terms, Tatis carried San Diego's offense during a six-game losing skid, which came to an end on Sunday. In a 4-3 victory over Cincinnati, the 20-year-old shortstop merely served as a spark. He increased his hitting streak to 10 games with a third-inning single, but the other big bats did the heavy lifting.
The Padres had strung together back-to-back hits just once during the first five games of their homestand. Beginning with Tatis’ single, they notched five straight knocks in the third. Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer capped the rally with run-scoring doubles. Austin Hedges homered earlier in the frame -- a 109-mph missile -- and went 2-for-3 with an RBI.
“That's what we're going to do all season,” Hedges said. “This kind [of] stretch is going to happen in a season. It looks worse because of how well we were playing earlier. But our bats haven't come alive yet. When they do, it's going to be really fun.”
It wasn’t an outburst by any stretch. After Hosmer’s double, Reds starter Tyler Mahle retired the next 10 hitters, and the Padres wouldn’t score again. But the four-run third inning did the trick.
Left-hander Joey Lucchesi was excellent over 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball. He struck out eight and allowed five hits and two walks. Closer Kirby Yates slammed the door for his league-leading 10th save, after fellow relievers Brad Wieck and Craig Stammen surrendered solo homers in the seventh.
“Losing sucks,” Lucchesi said. “But we always knew we were going to bounce back.”
In reality, the Padres were never going to sustain the scorching pace they set during their 11-5 start. They also won’t be as bad as they were during their 0-6 stretch. San Diego's offense mustered just two runs per game in that span.
Through it all, Tatis was the Padres’ constant. He’s hitting .291 with a .955 OPS this season. His 10-game hitting streak is tied with Colorado’s Trevor Story for the longest active stretch in the Majors, and he’s batting .394 with three homers in that time.
The last six 20-year-olds with hitting streaks of 10 games or longer reads as a who’s who of phenoms this decade: Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Mike Trout. It’s clear that the burden of a scuffling San Diego offense never affected Tatis -- the sport’s No. 2 prospect and a surprise addition to the Opening Day roster last month.
“We talk about his temperament a lot,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “We appreciate the fact that he's even-keeled. Because we saw that in him. ... That's why he's up here in the first place. We knew he could handle some ups and downs.”
So far, it’s been mostly ups.
Trouble with the churve
Lucchesi’s signature pitch -- a curveball/changeup mix that he calls a “churve” -- was untouchable on Sunday afternoon. He threw the pitch 38 times, and Cincinnati whiffed on 12 of them. The Reds put four balls in play, and none were hit hard.
That’s a product of the work Lucchesi is putting in during his bullpen sessions. He’s gone to great lengths to hone his command of the pitch. A season ago, Lucchesi had, essentially, two versions of his churve -- one in the dirt and one in the strike zone.
“Before, I'd just go down or I'd go in the zone,” Lucchesi said. “But the hitters have seen me now, so they know. I've got to locate it now.”
It’s still a work in progress. Lucchesi’s command isn’t pinpoint. But with a swing-and-miss offering like this one, it doesn’t have to be. On Sunday, his command was good enough.
“I don't think it's getting better with the movement on it,” Hedges said of the pitch. “I just think he's learning where to throw it. … He's learned to throw it to different sides of the plate for different hitters. He's just learning when and how to use it.”
Tatis was caught stealing after his third-inning single. Even when he makes an out on the basepaths, he manages to pull off something spectacular.
Mahle threw a fastball to Manuel Margot, and Tatis got a poor jump. San Diego's speedy shortstop would’ve been out by two feet, but he made a swim move with his left arm, around the tag of second baseman Jose Peraza. Then, Tatis reached his right hand across his body, and he touched the base before Peraza’s glove could nab him.
The Padres challenged the play, and Tatis was ruled out afterwards. But that’s almost certainly because Tatis’ momentum carried him past the bag. He tried hard to keep his left foot on the base, but it was unclear whether he did.
“If they called him safe, he would've probably stayed safe,” Green said. “He's a special athlete. You see certain guys be able to do that. Javy Baez comes to mind right away. He can just contort the body, move around in special ways. He can do things moving at full speed that other people can't do.”
Margot and Machado followed with singles, before doubles from Myers and Hosmer. The Padres, who hadn’t led in six games on their homestand, had finally broken through.