For a long time during the 2022 season, the San Diego Padres were trying to relieve themselves from the distractions surrounding their teammate Fernando Tatis Jr. But now after a slow start out of the gate in 2023, the Friars can’t wait for their 24 year old problem child to return and jumpstart a sputtering offense.
If you recall, the rising super star with shoulder and wrist ailments had his wings clipped last August after being busted by Major League Baseball with an 80 game suspension for a PED violation. It was a huge blow for the brown and gold, who had just acquired Juan Soto and Josh Bell from the Washington Nationals along with Josh Hader in a separate transaction with the Milwaukee Brewers. Still, San Diego managed to hang tough behind the bat and glove of Manny Machado and the exceptional play of Ha-Seong Kim, who performed beyond expectations as a replacement for Tatis Jr. This was a club that came perhaps one pitch away from playing the Houston Astros in the Fall Classic.
This season, the Padres owner Peter Seidler gave the go ahead to sign Boston Red Sox free agent Xander Bogaerts to a career package, second only to teammate Machado and pushing the Padres well over the luxury tax threshold. But while a Bogaerts bat has delivered, Machado, Soto, veterans Nelson Cruz, Matt Carpenter and Kim have not been very reliable. As a team, San Diego has slashed a dismal .228/.311/.394 with strikeouts among the third worst in baseball. And don’t even get me started in the RISP category, because it’s downright embarrassing for such a potent lineup.
The pitching has been decent, despite the fact that ace Joe Musgrove has yet to make a start due to a broken toe after a weight room accident. So, I think it’s ironic that the throngs of Padre fans who sell out Petco Park every night can’t wait for the return of Tatis Jr. Aren’t they the same folks who bad-mouthed “El Niño” after his suspension? But from a player’s perspective, everyone knows how hard this young man has worked to correct his mistakes and regain his spot on the club, even if he’ll now be playing right field instead of his familiar position at shortstop.
“Fernando has worked really hard and itching to get back,” says Musgrove, who has been on a rehab assignment with Tatis Jr. at AAA El Paso. “His energy is amazing and he’s been a good teammate.”
During his short Texas stint, “El Niño” has racked up video game type numbers, slashing .515/.590/1.212 in eight games. For icing on the cake in his final three starts, Fernando went 11 for 16 and launched six bombs that left the yard. His harsh punishment ends on April 20th when the Padres will be on the road against the surprising Diamondbacks. With the off-season surgeries an obvious success, Tatis Jr. is good to go, and San Diego’s manager Bob Melvin can’t wait.
“We’ll just try to bubble wrap him and get him to Arizona,” quipped the veteran skipper.
Melvin plans to use Tatis Jr. in the leadoff spot, followed by Soto, Machado and probably the DH slot I respectively disagree with that strategy in the short term, because the Padres are not likely to green light Fernando to run for the first few weeks due to his reckless abandon style of play. Besides, the struggling Friars need a reliable bat to drive in runs.
That being said, one thing is certain. The addition of Fernando Tatis Jr. in any capacity is a definite plus, and the Padres need him contribute immediately.