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Sweep eludes Padres, but trip inspires hope

Four takeaways from the Friars' 7-3 swing through three cities
@AJCassavell
April 14, 2019

PHOENIX -- What a road trip. The Padres dropped the finale of their three-city, 10-game swing on Sunday afternoon in Arizona. But even with an 8-4 loss to the D-backs, San Diego will return home in first place in the National League West, off to its best start in nine

PHOENIX -- What a road trip.

The Padres dropped the finale of their three-city, 10-game swing on Sunday afternoon in Arizona. But even with an 8-4 loss to the D-backs, San Diego will return home in first place in the National League West, off to its best start in nine years.

“It was a great road trip,” said Padres manager Andy Green, whose club was 7-3 on the trip and won each series. “You don’t want the last game to cause anybody to lose sight of how good a trip it was. … You come away winning all three series -- you’ve got to feel really good about that.”

Here are four takeaways from San Diego's run through St. Louis, San Francisco and Arizona.

1. Fernando Tatis Jr. is here to stay
For a long time, the Padres have known Tatis would be their shortstop of the future. They weren’t exactly sure when the future would become the present. To much fanfare, Tatis cracked the Opening Day roster last month. But he twice struggled in the Minor Leagues when asked to jump a level. It was unclear how he would handle this transition.

Turns out, the future is now. Tatis has endured no early struggles, posting a .933 OPS with a team-leading five dingers. He took Zack Greinke deep on Sunday to homer in consecutive games for the first time in his career. Tatis became just the fifth player age 20 or younger to homer five times in his first 16 games.

On top of that, Tatis, MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 overall prospect, has backed it up by playing excellent defense. More than anything else, critics questioned his ability to stick at shortstop. Tatis is answering those questions emphatically.

The Padres sacrificed a year of team control over Tatis in 2025 by calling him up on Opening Day. They clearly feel as though it’s been worth it.

"It's shown up in the win-loss column that he's with us," Green said.

Said Tatis: "I want to thank them every day for this opportunity. Every day, I try to demonstrate I can do the job.”

So far, so good.

2. The back end of the bullpen needs some help
The Padres have won 11 games this season, and A.J. Kirby-Jones has finished 10. Craig Stammen has pitched in nine of those wins. Neither has appeared in a loss, and both have been excellent.

The Padres won’t complain that they've needed to use their best pitchers to secure so many victories. But San Diego still needs to find a way to limit the use of its relievers.

That could come in one of two ways.

The starters could work deeper into games. Chris Paddack and Matt Strahm are on fairly strict pitch limits this season, so they're off the hook. But Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchesi could do more to ease the burden.

Or, more important, the middle-relief corps could step up. Games like Saturday’s 5-4 win shouldn't be so suspenseful. The Padres carried a four-run lead into the sixth, and they coughed it up. In an ideal world, the middle relievers hold that lead, giving Yates and Stammen a breather.

3. The outfield rotation is working just fine
Maybe having four outfielders is better than three.

The Padres have four right-handed-hitting outfielders, and all spring it wasn’t clear how they’d split playing time. Thus far, it has been pretty easy. Through 17 games, Manuel Margot, Wil Myers and Franmil Reyes have started 12 times. Hunter Renfroe has received 11 starts.

All four have offered significant contributions this season. Three of them came off the bench to hit a go-ahead home run on the road trip. Right now, Margot is red hot, and he led off Sunday’s game with a home run off Greinke.

“It's big in the National League to have a good bench,” Myers said. “We have a very good outfield. And we have a very good hitter coming to the plate every night in the fifth, sixth, seventh inning in a big situation.”

4. Manny Machado is a pretty good third baseman
OK, this one was obvious before the road trip. But Machado's immense talents were on full display. His 151-foot sidearm throw from foul ground will go down as one of the most remarkable plays a Padres third baseman has made in a long time.

More impressive: It's routine for Machado. Afterward, he made it clear he didn't consider the play out of the ordinary.

"Nothing new," said Machado, who had his first day off Sunday. "That's what I practice for."

In the same division as Nolan Arenado, Machado has some serious competition in his quest for a third Gold Glove Award. Arenado comes to San Diego on Monday night as the Padres open an eight-game homestand.

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