Veterans, rookies alike fuel Padres' offense

April 10th, 2022

PHOENIX -- The Padres traded for Sean Manaea and signed Nick Martinez during the offseason. They brought back Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Blake Snell. Soon enough, Mike Clevinger will return from Tommy John surgery. At Triple-A, top pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore is making a strong case for a breakthrough.

So, yeah, the Padres figured their rotation might be pretty good this season. Probably not hitless-baseball-every-night good. But still one of the best in baseball and good enough to keep them in games on a nightly basis.

The question, then, is what to make of this Padres offense? It has some solid pieces. It has some obvious flaws. But is there enough to withstand the absence of star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. for at least another couple months?

One way or another, they're going to find out.

The Padres’ 5-2 victory over the D-backs on Saturday night at Chase Field might provide the perfect blueprint. On the one-year anniversary of his no-hitter, right-hander Joe Musgrove allowed two runs over six excellent innings (though, yes, he allowed five hits, snapping the rotation’s season-opening hitless streak). The offense, meanwhile, showed what it might be capable of. And it might be capable of more than you’d think.

“One guy comes up with a big hit, then the next guy up starts doing the same thing,” second baseman Jake Cronenworth said.

The Padres, after their lineup cratered down the stretch last season, never did make that major splash offensively. But there are reasons for optimism. They added Luke Voit via trade. Austin Nola is healthy again. Top prospect C.J. Abrams has arrived in the big leagues -- and tallied his first career hit on Saturday.

Then, of course, there’s Manny Machado who led the way Saturday night with two hits as the Padres scraped and clawed their way to five runs. Eric Hosmer had two hits, as well, including the go-ahead single in the top of the eighth.

“We’re going to need that,” said manager Bob Melvin. “And we’re going to need contributions not only from those guys but from the guys off the bench, too. We got contributions from the bench today, from some young guys.”

Indeed, shortly after Abrams’ first hit, he scored his first career run when José Azocar tallied his first career hit -- a single through the right side. (It was a pivotal tack-on run, ensuring that fellow rookie Steven Wilson would pick up his first career win. Quite a night for the new guys.)

Even though he’s playing the same position, it would be unfair to heap too much of the burden for Tatis’ absence on Abrams’ shoulders. He’s a 21-year-old rookie, and his playing time will be split with fellow shortstop Ha-Seong Kim.

Ultimately, that’s what the Padres have stressed all along about how they can replace Tatis. It’s the message Melvin delivered to his team on March 14, the first day of camp and the day the rest of the team learned of Tatis’ injury. Replacing that type of production isn’t a one-man job. It’s a collective effort. On Saturday night, all nine places in the Padres’ order reached base at least once.

“It’s hard to be [Tatis],” said Cronenworth, who recalled the Padres’ 7-1 stretch in Tatis’ absence last May. “But you come up, you play hard, you play really well in your role.”

Tatis is with the team in Arizona, still unable to do much more than cardio work. Prior to the game Saturday, he spoke with reporters for the first time since surgery on his wrist last month.

"[I’m] bouncing back good, as scheduled,” Tatis said. “And I'm just looking forward right now."

Tatis says he feels great and is optimistic he might be able to return before the original mid-to-late June timetable. But that’s wishful thinking right now. It’ll be another three weeks before he can start swinging a bat. The Padres won’t have a realistic idea of his timetable until then.

In the meantime, they could use a few more nights like this one.