Myers pays another visit to Slam Diego

September 9th, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- In a way, the Padres' staggering success this season has been somewhat unfair to . When the team was bad -- and since Myers’ 2015 arrival, it’s 102 games below .500 -- Myers' struggles were the focal point. His tribulations as the one-time face of the franchise grew to define an entire era of Padres rebuilding.

Now? San Diego is 10 games above .500 after a 14-5 victory over the Rockies on Tuesday night at Petco Park. picked up his first win for his new club, and the Padres continued to stake their claim as World Series contenders.

Myers, of course, has been an integral part of all that, and he added two more home runs Tuesday -- including a first-inning grand slam to rekindle “Slam Diego.” Yet, on a team with bigger names and multiple MVP candidates, Myers has flown completely under the radar -- despite his .297 batting average and .973 OPS, both career highs.

Fine by him. Myers is winning. And it's been a long time since he's done any of that.

"It's definitely more exciting after going through those years of struggling here in the rebuilding process," Myers said late last month. "It's finally here. We have the team they've been assembling for those years.

"It's been a long time coming."

Perhaps better than anyone else, Myers understands what the Padres' success this season means to a playoff-starved fan base. He reached the postseason with Tampa Bay in his first year in the Major Leagues and hasn't been back since. Frankly, he hasn't come close.

Following an All-Star 2016 campaign, Myers signed a six-year contract extension in San Diego. Then he averaged a mere 1 WAR across the first three years of that deal.

But in 2020 Myers’ role is a stark contrast from the role the Padres asked him to fill when he put pen to paper. Generally speaking, and carry the load. Myers sits a few spots behind them in the order, and he rakes, too -- just a bit more casually.

“When you have the leading two MVP candidates in the middle of the order, that really helps out a lot,” Myers said. “There's a lot of attention on those two guys right there for good reason. Those two guys go out there every single day and do what they do. Me in the five, six hole, I just want to clean things up. … I've really enjoyed this role that I've been in this year to be able to be behind some great players, watch them go about their work, then be able to contribute.”

Last year was probably Myers' most difficult as a Padre. He slumped to a .739 OPS, and his 34.3% strikeout rate would've easily led the Major Leagues if he'd gotten the 12 more plate appearances he needed to qualify. He was relegated to a bench role for a chunk of the summer.

This year, the Padres zeroed in on that strikeout rate -- particularly Myers' chases outside the zone. They figured if they could get him closer to his career averages, he'd be able to capitalize on the rest of his offensive skill set.

"He's been stubborn and disciplined about maintaining that approach,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “Some days, some at-bats, it'll come and go. But when it runs away from him, he's been able to grasp it back."

Myers entered play Tuesday chasing just 23 percent of the time and striking out at a 25.5% clip -- both better than his career marks. Relative to the rest of the league, those numbers aren't great. But when you hit the ball as consistently hard as Myers, they're good enough. As evidenced by his Statcast data.

On Tuesday, San Diego fell behind, 3-0, when Nolan Arenado took Clevinger deep in the first. But four Padres reached base -- via walks and a hit by pitch -- before Myers came to the plate in the bottom half of the inning. In yet another bizarre happening during the Padres’ salami binge, their first hit of the game was a grand slam.

Myers sent an outside-corner fastball to the Petco Porch in right field. Six innings later, he tacked on a 438-foot moon shot into the San Diego bullpen, his 11th homer of the year.

Last month, Myers was one of four Padres to hit grand slams in four consecutive games, giving birth to the nickname “Slam Diego.” The Padres have seven slams on the season and are three away from tying their 2001 franchise record, despite a shortened 60-game season.

“It just shows what this team’s very capable of doing,” Myers said. “This is a very explosive offense.”

And Myers -- after years at the center its struggles -- has played no small part.