Get to know the 'Ryno' running the Padres' dugout
Plus, a look at Eric Hosmer's unconventional defense at first base
This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell's Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
First and foremost: Get well soon, Bob Melvin!
The Padres' skipper underwent successful prostate surgery on Wednesday and is expected to make a full recovery and return to the dugout (which is undeniably excellent news). But Melvin will miss at least a portion of the team's forthcoming road trip.
That puts bench coach Ryan Christenson at the helm for the foreseeable future. And you might be asking yourself ... "Who?"
Well, here are a five quick things to know about the acting Padres manager:
1. Christenson spent the past four seasons as Melvin's bench coach in Oakland, before assuming the same role in San Diego. Regarding his managerial style, he says, "We think very much alike, regarding situations and moves. So I plan on running the game exactly how he would run a game."
2. Christenson spent parts of six seasons in the big leagues, playing for the A's, D-backs, Brewers and Rangers from 1998-2003. After his retirement, he began coaching in the A's system. He spent five seasons as a Minor League manager from 2013-17 -- including back-to-back Texas League titles in '15 and '16 (teams that featured Padres left-hander Sean Manaea) -- before joining Melvin's big league staff.
3. A native of Riverside, Calif., Christenson played college baseball at Pepperdine. He says he grew up an Angels fan, but he had a poster of Tony Gwynn on his wall as a kid and always considered the Padres his "National League team."
4. He's an all-world batting-practice fly-ball shagger. Christenson has gained a reputation for his no-look or behind-the-back catches of batting-practice fly balls. "He's always out there putting on a show," Manaea said.
5. Everyone calls him "Ryno." When I asked Manaea about "Ryan" on Wednesday, he did a double-take. Then he put it together: "Oh, Ryno!"
Most importantly, Christenson gets a ringing endorsement from nearly everyone who's played for him.
"Just an incredible human being first of all," said Manaea. "And as a leader, he's always very straight to the point. I've always appreciated the way he communicates, just as a coach and as a person.”
Added Jurickson Profar: "He brings a lot of energy and a lot of positivity. He's very chill, calm. [Similar to] Bob."
And here's what Melvin had to say, prior to his operation: "He's a future manager waiting to happen. You can ask any of these guys how impactful he is for them. ... We look at the game similarly. He's going to manage it basically the way I do, and we've been together long enough to where he shouldn't miss a beat."
Hosmer's unconventional defense
Polarizing subject alert: I'd like to talk about Eric Hosmer's defense. Specifically, I'd like to talk about two aspects of his defense -- one that doesn't get enough credit and one that is often derided, rightly so sometimes.
First, the positive: It struck me how far off the bag Hosmer was playing against some right-handed hitters, and in the first game of the homestand last week, he made two plays to his right that required full-on overhand throws to the pitcher covering. Those throws were on target, and you can bet his pitchers appreciate it.
“He has a great feel for the ball,” said right-hander Nick Martinez. “He has such a good feel leading the pitcher, and it’s on the money every time. If I’m on the right route, it’s going to be right there. That gives everyone a lot of confidence. Against a righty that’s not going to hit it down the line, he can scoot over a little bit, knowing that he’s going to make that throw.”
Then, there's the manner in which Hosmer shuffles his feet around the bag, often going behind the base in an effort to secure a long hop. That strategy came back to bite him on Monday, when the Cubs’ Willson Contreras arrived at the same time as the baseball. The ball caromed off Contreras’ thigh, allowing a run to score.
I spoke with Hosmer the next day about that play, and he made a couple things clear -- first, that he’d made a mistake by employing the tactic at that particular moment:
“You’re just thinking that you have enough time, that the runner’s not going to get down the line and beat the throw,” said Hosmer, who is off to an excellent start at the plate, hitting .367/.434/.550 across 30 games. “The one last night, I thought he wasn’t getting down the line as quick, and he got down pretty quick. It didn’t work out.”
Second, like it or not, Hosmer won’t stop using that technique -- a technique he employs more than just about any other first baseman in the league. His thinking?
“You’re taking away the do-or-die from the play, where you can secure the out, secure the catch,” Hosmer said. “You give yourself a better hop, which gives you a better percentage of catching it. Usually you have enough time. On that one, I just didn’t have enough time.”