Padres Daily: When a plan comes together; Tatis' chaos; Wacha flame; to the left
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Padres Daily: When a plan comes together; Tatis' chaos; Wacha flame; to the left

Jun 13, 2023

Good morning,

While everyone else worries, the Padres work.

"It's just great that we’re getting the reward," Fernando Tatis Jr. said late yesterday afternoon. "That's what I’ve been talking about — that we’re putting that work in. Just glad it came out today."

Will it tomorrow, when the Padres begin a three-game series in Denver?

As was alluded to in my game story (here) from yesterday's 10-3 victory over the Mariners, how would anyone know with this team?

You can read in that story about Michael Wacha's continued excellence, Juan Soto's big day, another power display by Gary Sánchez and how every Padres batter in the starting lineup reached base and all but Trent Grisham got at least one hit.

It was a fine performance.

But, really, all it did was continue the rollercoaster ride. Up, down. Exciting, boring. Awesome, awful.

There are 100 games remaining in which we will find out who the real Padres are.

But they have clearly shown what they are capable of. And their bursts of big games pretty much has to be considered evidence that competence exists among the hitters and those guiding them.

The Padres certainly need to be more consistent. But their problem is not as much the number of times they score a lot as it is the number of times they hardly score.

They are 27-4 when they score four or more runs, a threshold that is just off the MLB average of 4.54 runs per game.

They are 2-29 when they score three or fewer runs. The 31 games in which they have scored 0, 1, 2 or 3 runs are tied for second most in the major leagues.

The Padres average 6.54 runs in victories, which ranks ninth in the major leagues. They average 1.97 runs in losses, which ranks 29th in the major leagues.

Hitting is difficult, and it is a solitary exercise in the moments in which it counts. Two Padres hitters have privately acknowledged in the past month being given solid information, getting in the box knowing what to do in a certain situation and then essentially freezing. More, without a doubt, have veered from the prescribed path at various times for whatever reason.

The Padres did a lot of things right yesterday, including doing what they could with the pitches they were given in the counts they had. Eight of their 17 hits came with two strikes. They scored seven of their runs with two outs and went 6-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

Significantly, they didn't try to work counts against a starting pitcher who notoriously throws strikes and a bullpen full of relievers that do as well. Of the Padres’ 42 plate appearances, 20 lasted no more than three pitches. Their 51.1 percent swing rate was their sixth highest of the season, and their 86 swings were their second most.

What was different?

"The results," manager Bob Melvin said. "The results loosen you up some. You can't help but go up there at times — and we have some guys with some power — and you try to do too much, you try to be that guy who hits the three-run homer or hits the ball in the gap somewhere and kind of breaks this runners-in-scoring-position thing. But the way to do it is the way we saw it today. We need several games in a row. But this is the type of approach that we certainly can have and the one that's preached every day."

Yes, rest assured that hitting coaches Ryan Flaherty, Scott Coolbaugh and Oscar Bernard are not working just every other day.

"This is a game that should happen more often for us," Melvin said after yesterday's game. "And the hitting coaches preach the approach every single day. And there's a few of them, and they wear it. I mean, there's not a great feeling when you have a ballclub that should be better offensively. I can't tell you the hours of work these guys put in and carve up with several guys. We have different cages going. We have on the field sometimes. We have machine. There's a lot going on behind the scenes as far as the hitting work. So days like this make them breathe a little easier. And it should. They work really hard, and they’re really good."

This was far from Melvin's first defense of his hitting coaches. (And he didn't hire them. President of Baseball Operations A.J. Preller did. So Melvin isn't defending himself by extension.)

"The performance hasn't been consistent, but the work has been consistent," designated hitter Matt Carpenter said. "That's really the best way to put it. What more can you ask? Results are sometimes fickle in this game, but your process and your work, you can be consistent. We’ve been consistent in that. We’ve just got to find a way to get it going (in games) more consistently, and I think it's coming."

The Padres have been saying that for 2½ weeks. And while the severe peaks and valleys have made their rate stats during this stretch of 16 games about on par with their season numbers, there have been some significant differences recently.

Over the past 16 games:

"There's 100 games left," Melvin said. "It's a lot of baseball. So we have plenty of time to get where we want to go. And we have to understand that, and our guys do understand that. So it's gonna be more games like this. And we have the ability offensively, defensively, pitching-wise to go on a roll — to go on one of those strings where you win eight out of ten or 10 out of 12. And, you know, that's something we’re probably going to have to do at some point in time. But we have the ability to do it. More games like this will help."

Tatis’ 92 home runs are the third most ever in the first 315 games of a career. The player right behind him on that list is Sánchez, who hit 91 homers in his first 315 career games, from Oct. 3, 2015, to June 13, 2019.

As we marvel at what he has done in his first nine games with the Padres, it is possible we forget how good Sánchez was early in his career since his recent stats (.195 average and .681 OPS from 2020 to ‘22) are so paltry.

"He is good," Tatis corrected yesterday.

You can read Bryce Miller's column (here) about Sánchez's recent journey and what he's done in his first nine games with the Padres.

The most significant thing Sánchez has done is hit four home runs in a span of eight games. The last Padres player to have that many homers in such a short span was Jake Cronenworth, who hit one home run in five of six games from June 19 to 25, 2021.

Tatis stole his seventh base of the season yesterday. It was his sixth time stealing second, and the third time in those six steals that he popped up at the conclusion of his slide and sprinted to third on a throwing error by the catcher.

"Creating chaos," Tatis said. "That's the beautiful thing of being electric in this game, being one step ahead."

Wacha was signed at the start of spring training with the expectation he would be a fine fourth or fifth starter.

He arrived in Peoria, Ariz., with a 3.92 ERA over 202 career starts, having navigated shoulder injuries over the years. . The 31-year-old right-hander had put up a 3.32 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over 23 starts with the Red Sox in 2022.

Yesterday, Wacha allowed two hits in six scoreless innings. It was the fifth time this season he has gone at least that deep in a game without allowing a run, already matching his career high set in 2017.

Wacha is 6-2 with a 3.18 ERA, and the Padres have won eight of his 12 starts. He was the National League Pitcher of the Month in May and has a 1.05 ERA and 0.80 WHIP over his past seven starts.

"I just feel like I’ve got a really good feel for all my pitches right now," Wacha said. "Going to both sides of the plate with pretty much everything and keeping them off balance."

Wacha is throwing all five of his pitches at least 10 percent of the time, something he has never done over the course of a season.

Wacha's changeup has always been his best pitch, but it is for the first time in his career his most frequent pitch by a slight margin over his four-seam fastball. He is throwing the fastball far less than in almost any season and his curveball slightly more.

The changeup has been his most-used or second-most-used pitch every game, but the four-seam fastball has been everything from his most frequent to his fourth-most frequent offering. His cutter has been as high as his second-most frequent pitch to his least-used pitch in a game. The sinker and curveball have been anywhere from his third-most frequent to his least-used pitch.

Padres left-handed batters went the other way for five hits yesterday. They had just 15 hits to the left side in the season's first 61 games.

"We’ve been swinging the bat well," Soto said. "I think everyone is working on the same thing — trying to get the ball and get the singles to the opposite field and stop trying to pull the ball and try to get big."

Like many things with this offense, it is probably too early to read anything into the success yesterday.

"Maybe we should continue it," Cronenworth said with a smile.

Cronenworth entered yesterday's game with a .198 batting average, the lowest he had ever been more than 20 games into a season.

His day began with a sacrifice bunt in the second inning that moved Sánchez to third base en route to scoring on Carpenter's one-out single.

"Carp has been swinging it well, so just get (Sánchez) over one more base," Cronenworth said. "Carp had a good at-bat and drove him in. That kind of seemed to start it."

What it started was the Padres on their way to 10 runs and Cronenworth on his way to a 3-for-4 day that broke a career-high streak of 17 games without a multi-hit game.

Cronenworth did not hit a ball harder than 94.7 mph yesterday.

"It felt like guys didn't catch the balls that I hit," Cronenworth said. "It seemed like there for a couple of weeks, no matter where I hit it, how hard I hit it, just right at somebody. It's baseball. It sucks. When you have a day like today, it's nice."

I am taking the three-game trip to Colorado off.

I will be spending the next few days at home with a couple of my favorite girls.

Evelyn's third birthday is this weekend, and based on how quickly her dad grew up, I know that pretty soon she will be driving a real car. So I plan to make her birthday a holiday for as long as I live.

I will post a story today about why it is imperative the Padres succeed this season. Jeff Sanders is heading to Denver to cover the series against the Rockies. Check out that coverage on our Padres page.

With the Padres off again Monday, the next newsletter will arrive in your inbox Wednesday morning after Tuesday's series opener against the Guardians.

Talk to you then.