Bogaerts, Kim back in camp after Classic stints
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Padres' middle infield is back in Peoria -- far sooner than they would've hoped.
Xander Bogaerts, whose Team Netherlands narrowly missed reaching the World Baseball Classic quarterfinals, returned to the Padres’ clubhouse on Wednesday. He was in the lineup against the Guardians before that game was rained out -- and is now scheduled to start on Thursday against the Rockies in Scottsdale.
Ha-Seong Kim, meanwhile, dealt with similar disappointment for Team Korea, which finished 2-2 but did not advance to the quarterfinals due to a one-run loss to Australia. Kim landed back in Arizona on Wednesday afternoon and could rejoin the lineup on Friday.
Both Kim and Bogaerts represented the Padres well at the World Baseball Classic. Kim's three homers stood as the top total in the tournament entering Wednesday. Bogaerts went deep once and posted an .886 OPS.
"We've got work to do here, and [I’m] back where I belong, pretty much," Bogaerts said. "I had a lot of fun at the tournament. I don't think anyone thought we were going to be back this early, especially the way we started."
Bogaerts spoke ruefully of the Dutch team's missed opportunities. Bogaerts’ squad started 2-0 and needed to win merely one of its final two games to advance. Heck, the Netherlands could've advanced with a close loss to Italy in the finale, but instead fell, 7-1, allowing the Italians (and Padres catcher Brett Sullivan) to advance.
"These are guys that I grew up playing against at a really young age, guys that I saw playing when I was a kid," Bogaerts said of his time with Team Netherlands. "It's fun, you know, those times. No one -- no one -- thought it would end this early. That was the only disappointment."
Still, Bogaerts noted that playing in such a competitive environment -- and playing nine innings regularly -- has him well ahead of schedule at this point in spring.
Additionally, manager Bob Melvin noted the benefit for the new Padres shortstop to get a few extra reps alongside Kim, Bogaerts’ double-play partner at second base.
"Knowing where the other guy is going to be, which side of the bag he's going to, there's just a lot of stuff that you learn through reps and experience with guys," Melvin said.
With Kim and Bogaerts back in action, that means a return to a backup role for Jackson Merrill, the top Padres prospect in the MLB Pipeline rankings. But Merrill got plenty of reps in the starting lineup with the team’s top two shortstop options on international duty.
“I’ve kind of learned that it’s the same exact game,” Merrill said. “It’s no different to me. … It’s the same thing, just more people, louder crowd, better pitching, obviously. Everyone is better. The competition is incredible. But there’s no different feeling in the box, whether I’m in a Minor League game or a big league game.”
Merrill is 7-for-29 (.241) with a double this spring -- nothing extraordinary, but he has held his own for a 19-year-old who hasn’t played above Single-A. Merrill has also been sharp defensively, and he has drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff.
“He’s been fantastic,” Melvin said. “He does not look like a 19-year-old, does not play like a 19-year-old. The conversations you have with him, he’s way further along than his age would tell you.
“He’s going to be a quick mover. Where? Here at what point in time? I don’t know -- we’ve got a lot of guys covering those [infield] positions. But when you’re that good, you find a way. So I expect him to be a really quick mover to the big leagues.”
Rain, rain …
A rainout Wednesday doesn’t put too much of a dent in the Padres’ pitching plans. Michael Wacha, who was slated to start against the Guardians at Peoria Stadium on Wednesday night, instead will face the Rockies on Thursday in Scottsdale.
Meanwhile, the Padres and Mariners have now scheduled a “B” game for Thursday at the Peoria Sports Complex. Starting that game for San Diego will be left-hander Jay Groome, who was originally slated to face Colorado. Groome, who has yet to allow a run in four Cactus League outings this spring, is vying for one of the last spots on the pitching staff.