Pitching, Higashioka dazzle in Padres first one-run win of 2024

Credit: USA Today Sports

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Credit: USA Today Sports

Following two very frustrating losses against the St. Louis Cardinals, headlined by offensive struggles of the top of the order, the San Diego Padres salvaged a much-needed win to end the series.

Between games one and two of the three-game set, the Padres hardly put any offensive pressure on the Red Birds, producing a combined eight at-bats with RISP (2-for-8) and left nine men on base.

Joe Musgrove, who entered the contest having pitched to a dreadful 9.72 ERA across eight and ⅓ innings, turned in his first dominant start of the year, going six innings of one-earned run baseball with seven strikeouts.

Musgrove’s early struggles in his first two starts manifested in poor command, which led to high pitch counts and a 2.16 WHIP. After hitting Brendan Donovan, the first batter of the game, the right-hander showcased elite command. It took the hurler only 34 pitches to get through the first three scoreless frames.

Even though the Padres jumped ahead 1-0 in the first on a Jurickson Profar bases-loaded walk, the Padres missed the big hit as the RISP struggles persisted.

With back-to-back Padres in Xander Bogaerts and Fernando Tatis Jr. reaching base to begin the first frame, the heavy hitters in Jake Cronenworth and Manny Machado both flew out on lazy fly balls.

A positive of the underwhelming first inning was how the Friars worked counts, making Cardinals starter Zack Thompson throw 33 pitches, the most in any inning of his career.

Despite the early-season record, Padres manager Mike Shildt has been fond of the Padres’ offensive approach.

“I feel like the approach is there,” Shildt said in the post-game interview following Tuesday’s 5-2 loss. “The intent’s there. I have yet to see a guy take an at-bat off.”

Credit: USA Today Sports

To begin the year, Shildt has platooned Eguy Rosario and Tyler Wade at third base during Machado’s defensive absence. In his first two at-bats, both with RISP, Rosario chased 2-2 forkballs in identical locations well under the zone to strand a combined four Friars.

The Padres increased the lead to 2-0 in the second on a Tatis RBI fielders-choice

After cruising through the first three innings, the Cardinals cut the lead in half after Padre killer Nolan Arenado lofted a 65 MPH floater into the outfield to score Willson Contreras.

Then, Kyle Higashioka had one of the best innings of all time.

In the top half of the fourth frame, Higashioka threw two Cardinals out at second trying to steal.

At the plate in the bottom half of the inning, Higashioka, who wore the golden sombrero with four K’s in his first game in the brown and gold, destroyed a 104 mph, 403-foot moonshot on a middle-middle fastball to regain the two-run advantage.

Higashioka became the second player in the last 45 years (Bengie Molina, 2000) to throw out multiple runners and homer in the same inning.

Things got hairy in the eighth. Wandy Peralta, relieving fellow southpaw Tom Cosgrove, entered the game for Shildt but quickly lost his release point and hit two Red Birds. The Cardinals crawled within one on a throwing error by Bogaerts trying to turn a double play.

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However, Robert Suarez cleaned up the mess and made the five-out save.

To end the eighth inning, Suarez enforced a clutch 6-4-3 double play, and after throwing over 30 pitches in the ninth, the flamethrower escaped a major jam, reaching back on a 99-MPH heater to strikeout the final Cardinal with the tying run on second base.

The 3-2 victory made Musgrove the first Padre starter to record a win in 2024.

“He had pretty much everything in his repertoire working today,” Higashioka said on the field after the game. “It was just about mixing and matching and making sure he used his strengths.”

Despite the crucial win, several concerns remain for the offense. The Padres went 0-9 with RISP and left nine on base, flashing back to the disappointing 2023 season. Furthermore, the first four hitters, Bogaerts, Tatis, Cronenworth, and Machado, went a combined 2-for-14 on the afternoon.

Close games will be a major emphasis for this ball club. In 2023, the Padres went a dire 9-23 in games decided by one run.

Even though the offensive effort was subpar, the Padres have started the young season 1-0 in one-run affairs.

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