How the Padres' rotation is shaping up for '22

March 23rd, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Really, the Padres couldn’t have drawn up a better afternoon for the outlook of their starting rotation.

First, pitched three perfect innings in a Minor League game on Wednesday, his first game action of any type since Tommy John surgery in November 2020. Then top prospect dominated the Angels in a 3-0 Cactus League victory, striking out five over three scoreless frames and allowing only one baserunner.

Ten days into Spring Training, there appears to be some clarity in what was once a muddled rotation picture. Sure, there are a few unresolved questions. But with just over two weeks remaining until the start of the season, here's what we know about the state of the Padres' 2022 starting rotation.

Darvish and Musgrove lead the way
Manager Bob Melvin wouldn't commit to naming an Opening Day starter, but he said it’s a two-horse race between and right now. As things line up, Darvish is one spot ahead of Musgrove in the Cactus League rotation.

Regardless of who takes the ball on April 7 in Arizona, Darvish and Musgrove are both expected to be full-go for the start of the regular season. Both threw three innings in their respective Cactus League debuts this week.

Musgrove was the Padres' best pitcher last season, having posted a 3.18 ERA across 32 starts. Darvish, meanwhile, was the team's best pitcher in the first half before dealing with some late-season trouble in his left hip. He spent the early part of the offseason rehabbing that injury. Then, Darvish seamlessly tweaked the mechanics of his lower half to avoid putting extra strain on that right hip.

"I feel like I'm set to be able to get to where I want to be, come Opening Day," Darvish said.

Said Musgrove: "For being where we are, having my first outing be three innings rather than the usual one or two, I feel really good."

Early limitations for Snell and Clevinger
Clevinger, who missed the entire 2021 season while recovering from surgery, retired all 10 hitters he faced on Wednesday. (His first inning was so efficient, he stayed on the mound and recorded a fourth out.)

Clevinger has been sharp and effective early in camp, but he isn't expected to appear in his first Cactus League game until some time next week. As such, he will almost certainly have some workload restrictions in the early part of the season. Even when he's fully built up, the Padres will monitor his innings, so soon after surgery.

"I'm sure there will be [limitations] at first," Clevinger said. "I just want them to be moreso in the first half of the season. ... Obviously, I'm trying to build the bulk of the innings for the stretch when it really matters."

As for , he's in a similar position to Clevinger, even if he isn't coming off injury. Snell's spring progressions have always been of the slower variety, and the Padres seem fine with that, even in a shortened camp. He's thrown more than 130 innings in his career only once, and San Diego doesn't want to push Snell too hard, too early.

So long as they're healthy, Snell and Clevinger are locks for the starting rotation. But they're unlikely to go past four or five innings in their first turn during the regular season.

A race for the No. 5 spot
If the first four spots are "set in stone," as Melvin said, here's a quick primer on where things stand in the battle for the No. 5 spot:

Gore is probably the wild card after his red-hot start to Cactus League play. He’s pitched five innings, allowing one hit and no walks while striking out seven. It’s a stark turnaround from his struggles in the past two seasons, and he might be putting himself in position to win a surprise roster spot. Not that Gore is thinking that far ahead.

“If I don’t throw the way I’m supposed to, it doesn’t matter,” Gore said. “I’m just going to try to do what I need to do and keep getting better. We’ll see what happens. But right now, I’m just going to continue to improve and try to take advantage of every opportunity I get.”

The Padres, it seems, have a lot of capable arms vying for places at the back of their starting rotation. They also have 14 games in 14 days to open the season. Might that indicate an early six-man rotation? Melvin doesn't think so.

"At this point, it's [a five-man rotation]," he said. "But we'll see how we get there."

Contingency plans
Even if the majority of those pitchers vying for the final rotation spot won't make the big league club out of camp, the Padres anticipate using them at some point during the season.

But what happens to those pitchers when the Opening Day roster is set? Well, Martínez is expected to be on the big league club, whether it's as a fifth starter, a sixth starter or a long reliever.

But the same isn't necessarily true of Weathers, Gore and -- perhaps surprisingly -- Paddack. In the cases of Weathers and Gore, they'd almost certainly open the season in the Minors where they could get regular innings. That's a possibility for Paddack as well, though it might depend on the makeup of the rest of the staff.

Lamet, meanwhile, will be stretched out innings-wise this spring and has an outside chance to work his way into the rotation mix. But the Padres want Lamet healthy, and they think the best way to do so is to use his elite fastball/slider mix out of the bullpen.

In any case, it's clear the Padres have options.

"You're going to need all those arms, regardless," Clevinger said. "There's going to be times, whether it's innings limits or someone needs a couple starts off, you're going to need guys to fill those shoes. We've got the guys with the stuff to do it."