The San Diego Padres clearly made it a point to add pitching depth this season, and it’s ready starting to show.
When the Padres endured a historic collapse in the latter half of 2021, one glaring issue was the Achilles’ heel- pitching depth. Towards the end of the season, guys like Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez were acquired off of the scrap heap to make spot-starts, to predictable results.
Joe Musgrove was the only starting pitcher that remained healthy and consistent through the entire season. Even Yu Darvish dropped off after a nagging hip issue hindered his success in the second half.
The Friars ranked 29th in innings pitched by their starters and were 25th in starter ERA after the All-Star break. As guys dropped out due to injury or ineffectiveness, the team spiraled to an 18-36 record after July 31. Two pitchers who had more than ten starts (Chris Paddack and Ryan Weathers) posted an ERA north of 5.00.
Now, things appear different, at least to start. The Padres are yet to get a start out of Blake Snell or Mike Clevinger, yet the rotation looked rock-solid in their first turn through. It started with Yu Darvish pitching six no-hit innings before a late-game collapse spoiled his 2022 debut. Then the newly acquired Sean Manaea did him one better, going seven hitless innings. He quickly showed why president of baseball operations and general manager A.J. Preller valued the lefty enough to swing a deal for him.
San Diego’s own fan-favorite Joe Musgrove kept the mojo going with six innings, allowing just two runs while striking out eight without a walk.
Then Sunday happened. Snell was originally supposed to make his 2022 debut. However, left adductor tightness prevented him from ending his warm-ups properly before taking the mound in Arizona. This left the Padres scrambling. Manager Bob Melvin chose Nabil Crismatt as the spot-starter on just a few minutes notice. All Crismatt did was toss three scoreless innings to start the game, setting the Padres up to win 10-5.
When discussing pitching depth, it would be incomplete without mentioning Crismatt’s efforts. He was called upon time after time last year, especially to provide length during “bullpen days.” He answered the call every time, tossing 81 1/3 innings with a respectable 3.76 ERA. If the Padres had to name an MVP of the second half of the season last year, it was Crismatt.
When Crismatt left the game, the Padres’ bullpen was fresh enough thanks to the efforts of the previous starters to endure six innings of work.
On Monday, facing a Giants team that is fresh off of an NL West crown and 107 wins a year ago, the Padres turned to their No. 5 starter in the rotation, Nick Martinez. For most contending teams, they are more than happy to get five innings with less than three runs allowed from their fifth starter. The Padres got a better effort than that from the former Japan Pacific League standout. He tossed five innings while allowing just one run, tight-roping out of several scary spots with multiple baserunners. He added six strikeouts to just one walk.
Any team would be thrilled to get that from their supposed “last” starting pitcher in the rotation.
The Padres know it will take more than just Darvish, Manaea, Musgrove, Martinez, and eventually Snell and Clevinger to guide them to what they hope is a run to the postseason. Most teams end up starting nine or ten different pitchers in one season. The Padres started a whopping 15 last year in an astounding run of injuries.
However, they have Snell still working his way back. If the left-hander is headed for the injured list, it does not appear to be for long. Let’s not forget what Snell looked like down the stretch before he got hurt late last year. In his final eight starts of 2021, he had a 1.83 ERA.
Mike Clevinger is set to make a rehab start later this week and could rejoin the team before May. Even if another starter goes down, or if Snell or Clevinger still can’t make it back for a while, there is this pitcher in El Paso named MacKenzie Gore. The former No. 3 overall prospect looks renewed, and his hype is once again soaring after a strong spring and equally strong debut with the Chihuahuas. He could get the call soon to make his much-anticipated debut.
As a whole, starting pitchers for San Diego have allowed just three earned runs in 27 innings through their first turnaround, which is a stellar 1.00 ERA, tops in the majors by a wide margin. As a team, they are fourth in ERA through five games.
In the bullpen, things could not have started better for the Padres’ new closer. Taylor Rogers has allowed just one baserunner and no runs through his first three appearances, all being saves. His slider is next-level nasty. Acquiring Rogers from Minnesota means the rest of the Padres bullpen can move up a lot, deepening the pool of already solid relievers.
Indeed, it is extremely early. Injuries can still, and likely will, happen. They have already begun to trickle in. However, the Padres enjoy the luxury of not knowing where to put Clevinger once he returns to the rotation. With a healthy Darvish, Snell, Musgrove, Manaea, and the Monday version of Nick Martinez, where do you put him?
Melvin and the Padres certainly prefer that dilemma over playing “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” on who has to start the second bullpen day of the week, like last season.