Preview: Pitching breakdown for Padres at Diamondbacks series

Padres Yu Darvish

Sep 23, 2021; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Yu Darvish (11) pitches against the San Francisco Giants during the third inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Yu Darvish will get the ball for the San Diego Padres on Opening Day, facing Madison Bumgarner of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

A fresh slate. A new season. Opening Day is finally here. The San Diego Padres will begin another 162-game campaign, looking to put the second half of last season in the rearview mirror. Under new manager Bob Melvin, the Padres will play their first seven games on the road, starting with four in Arizona.

Here are the starting pitching matchups for each game:

Game 1: Yu Darvish vs. Madison Bumgarner, 6:40 pm PT

It’s No. 1 starters on Opening Day, with Yu Darvish getting the ball for the Padres. The 35-year-old went 8-11 with a 4.22 ERA in 30 starts last season. Darvish struck out 199 batters in 166.1 innings, although his numbers were much better before the All-Star break.

Darvish featured seven pitches last year, with his cutter accounting for 34 percent of his pitch total. However, opponents hit a robust .340 off Darvish’s primary pitch, including ten home runs. The Padres hurler saw the most success in 2021 with his slider and four-seam fastball, generating a .180 and .153 average, respectively.

Here is his 2021 pitch distribution:

Padres Yu Darvish
Credit: Baseball Savant

Madison Bumgarner will be making his fourth consecutive season opener against the Padres. The 32-year-old is in year three of a five-year deal with the Diamondbacks. He went 7-10 with a 4.67 ERA in 26 starts last season. He was limited to 146.1 innings due to shoulder discomfort in early June and didn’t return until mid-July. Despite the injury, Bumgarner posted respectable metrics in K/9 (7.6), BB/9 (2.4), and WHIP (1.182).

Like Darvish, the Diamondbacks’ left-hander leads with a cutter, accounting for 34.3 percent of his pitch total. Opponents squared Bumgarner’s cutter up to the tune of a .263 average, including nine home runs. Over his career, The Hickory, NC native has generally pitched well against the Friars, owning a 13-13 record and 3.73 ERA while holding the Padres to a .224 batting average in 41 career games.

That said, Eric Hosmer has had some success against Bumgarner.

Game 2: Sean Manaea vs. Merrill Kelly, 6:40 pm PT

In Game 2, the Padres give the ball to newly acquired Sean Manaea. The left-hander had just one tune-up start with the Friars in Spring Training. He went 11-10 with a 3.91 ERA in 32 starts last season, accumulating 194 strikeouts in 179.1 innings pitched. He also led the American League with two complete-game shutouts. Manaea is a three-pitch pitcher, leaning heavily on his sinker at a 60 percent clip, the highest since the 2019 season (63.5 percent). A changeup and curveball round out his arsenal.

In 2021, opponents hit .273, .238, and .213 off his sinker, changeup, and curveball, respectively. Manaea’s sinker was uncharacteristically hit for damage, accounting for 19 of the 25 home runs he allowed last season. Coming from the American League West division, it’s no surprise that Manaea has a limited track record against the Diamondbacks. He has a 2-1 record in three previous starts with a 4.20 ERA, striking out nine batters in 15.0 innings pitched.

Merrill Kelly made his major league debut against the Friars back on April 1, 2019, and the 33-year-old will look to bounce back after a subpar season in 2021. In 27 starts, he had a 7-11 record with a 4.44 ERA, striking out 130 batters in 158.0 innings pitched. Kelly has the propensity to walk a few batters, 2.5 BB/9 in three seasons, to be exact.

The right-hander features five pitches, with his four-seam fastball leading the way at nearly 33 percent usage. Last year, opponents hit .317 off Kelly’s four-seamer. He experienced the most success with his changeup, holding batters to a .213 average and a 25.7 percent whiff rate.

Game 3: Joe Musgrove vs. Zach Davies, 5:10 pm PT

The most consistent starter for the Padres last season, Joe Musgrove will take the ball on Saturday against former Padres pitcher Zach Davies. Musgrove enjoyed a career year in 2021, posting a 3.18 ERA in 31 starts, surpassing the 200-strikeout mark in 181.1 innings of work. He also limited opponents to a .213 batting average, led by the usage of his slider and curveball.

At a combined 51.5 percent pitch total, Musgrove limited batters to a .160 and .126 average on these two pitches. Hitters did the most damage off his four-seam fastball, averaging a robust .316 average, seven home runs, and a .570 slugging percentage.

Padres Joe Musgrove
Credit: Baseball Savant

Davies was sent to Chicago in the Yu Darvish trade between the two clubs, and the former Friar posted career-worst numbers in the Windy City. In 32 starts, Davies spun a 5.78 ERA over a full run worse than his previous career-high ERA (4.77) in the 2018 season. The 29-year-old leaned heavily on his sinker at a 52.5 percent clip, yielding a .305 average. Usually his bread and butter, Davies’ changeup was a disaster last year as opposing batters hit .258 and 12 home runs.

In seven previous starts against San Diego, Davies owns a 2.79 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 38.2 innings. While limited to just three games, it’s worth noting that he’s had the propensity to walk a few batters at his new home ballpark. Davies has a nine-to-seven walk-to-strikeout ratio in 16.2 innings pitched at Chase Field.

Game 4: Blake Snell vs. Caleb Smith, 1:10 pm PT

The Padres website lists the Game 4 starter as “TBD,” but Blake Snell would make sense to start the finale based on the four known starters in the rotation. After coming over from the Tampa Bay Rays during the offseason, Snell’s first season in San Diego didn’t go as planned. He was limited to 27 starts due to a groin injury that ended his season early. The left-hander posted a 4.20 ERA but struck out an impressive 170 batters in 128.2 innings. It’s a shame he didn’t finish out the year because Snell was back on track in August and September, posting a 1.72 and 2.35 ERA, respectively.

Snell’s two main pitches are a four-seam fastball and slider, accounting for 76.9 percent of his pitch total in 2021. He used his slider at a career-high 24.4 percent clip, yielding a .153 average against. Despite the lowest usage of all four of his pitches, Snell’s changeup was not effective last year. Opposing batters hit .429, along with a .595 slugging percentage off this pitch.

Here is his 2021 pitch distribution:

Padres Blake Snell
Credit: Baseball Savant

Traded to the Diamondbacks at the 2020 trade deadline, Caleb Smith was primarily used out of the bullpen last season. The 30-year-old made 45 appearances, including 13 starts, striking out 124 batters in 113.2 innings pitched to the tune of a 4.83 ERA.

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Despite the inflated ERA, Smith finished in the top three percent in hard-hit rate (29.1 percent). He struggled to limit the free passes, walking just under 13 percent of the batters he faced. The big lefty is a four-pitch pitcher, with his four-seam fastball and slider accounting for 77.7 percent of his total pitch usage. None of Smith’s pitches yielded higher than a .234 batting average, but 15 of the 20 home runs allowed last season came off his primary two pitches.

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