Solid pitching rotation and defense win championships. The San Diego Padres (18-9) defeated the Miami Marlins 3-2 on May 6 to move to first place with the Los Angeles Dodgers within half a game. Their National League West rivals watched as the rain fell in Chicago and ruined their game against the Chicago Cubs.
The Padres currently rely on a six-man starting rotation but are managers Bob Melvin and general manager AJ Preller face some tough decisions when they’re left-handed Blake Snell returns to the Premier League. Snell is currently in rehab. In his last start, while appearing for Lake Elsinore Storm, the Padres’ single-A partner, Snell pitched four innings. He gave up four runs (three earned) in four hits and knocked out eight batters. Snell (groin) was placed on the 10-day injured (IL) list on April 13.
Snell is expected to make his 2022 debut on May 16 in Philadelphia against the Phillies. If he returns, a seven-man rotation wouldn’t be a likely scenario. Most teams use a rotation of five starters and may occasionally nominate a helper or prospect for a point start. The Padres have deployed a six-man rotation thanks to the 2022 return Mike Clevingerthe acquisitions of Nick Martinez and Sean Maneaand the debut of Mackenzie Gore. Also in the rotation are pillars Yu Darwish and Joe Musgrove.
If Snell returns, a player will have to be sent to the minors to make room for him in the 26-man roster. Also, a starting pitcher must leave the rotation. The name of this pitcher remains a mystery as Preller has not specified what he will do when the day comes. This article will attempt to look at the rotation as a whole and narrow the options down to the most likely candidate.
Nick Martinez – New to the rotation
The Padres agreed on a one year contract with Martinez on March 16. He previously played in Japan for the Nippon Ham Fighters and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, where he had a combined ERA of 3.02. Martinez could have up to four seasons with the Padres. He has player options in 2023, 2024 and 2025.
Martinez has five pitches in his arsenal — four-seam fastball, changeup, cutter, curveball, and sinker. The wide variety certainly makes him an attractive candidate to stay in the rotation. He has relied on his fastball and substitution more often than his secondary pitches, throwing his fastball 107 times (36 percent) and his substitution 107 times (23.6 percent) so far this season. Twelve of his 22 strikeouts this season have come from his off-speed pitch, with batsmen missing his switch 49.2 percent of the time.
Martinez averages just under 93 mph at his speed. Pitcher models show his fastball often lands over the plate. Batters bat .412 and bat .853 when he throws them his four-seamer. Three of the five homers he gave up this season were the result of his fastball. This is in stark contrast to his change. Models show that most of these pitches ended up below the strike zone or off the record.
The fastball has yet to find success, but Martinez’s elusive change and the other options in his repertoire make him a likely candidate to remain a starter. Martinez is safe from being removed from the rotation.
Mackenzie Gore – New to the majors
Gore was drafted by the Padres No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft. He made his major league debut this season on April 15 against the Atlanta Braves. On his debut, he pitched for five and a half innings, striking three while allowing two runs to three hits.
When Gore was drafted, his potential indicated he had the makeup of an ace pitcher. As a young, talented pitcher with high expectations, Gore is in good shape with the Padres right now. He’s at the end of a rotation with ace pitchers Darvish and Musgrove, along with Snell, Manea and Clevinger. Gore finds himself in a rotation filled with notable major league experience.
Gore has a 1.71 ERA after six starts. He relies on his four-seam fastball far more than on any other field (68 percent) and has used it in 15 of his 22 strikeouts so far this season. He has had some success with his slider. Batters swing and miss nearly 30 percent of the time he throws them.
Gore is only 23 and his hoped-for successful career is just beginning. The Padres would be insane to even consider trading Gore now that he’s made it into the big club. A more likely scenario would be if they decide to limit his innings by sending him to the minors and occasionally bumping him up for major league starts. How that could affect his development as a pitcher is not foreseeable. Either way, his future with the Padres is secure.
Mike Clevinger – Back to rotation
Clevinger is back in the rotation after missing all of 2021 while recovering from a second surgery with Tommy John. He sustained an injury to his nodular arm during the first game of the 2020 NLDS against the Dodgers.
Clevinger is in the final year of his contract and is the only starting pitcher in the position. Showing flashes of his former self should make Clevinger an attractive trade candidate for Preller. The franchise hasn’t specified an extension for Clevinger and may even frown given his injury history.
Clevinger is 31 years old and prone to injury. It wouldn’t be a big surprise if it were pushed back before or at the July close. On the one hand, he has postseason experience. This is a valuable intangible asset in any clubhouse. Then again, he’s not the only pitcher on the rotation with such experience. Snell has served in two World Series games. Darvish has reached the postseason with multiple teams and reached the World Series with the Dodgers. If the Padres were to move Clevinger, the clubhouse still has significant postseason experience.
As the chips fall
A trade is only a solution. One must consider the scenario that the Padres decide to keep all seven of their pitchers and keep all seven on the list. One possibility is the Padres will send Gore into the bullpen to limit his innings and keep him ready late into the season.
However, the team has other needs. Preller made attempts to add a corner fielder before the start of the 2022 season. His only win was Matt Beaty. If the team makes any moves in July, it will most likely be for a corner fielder. If Preller sends a Krug in return, don’t be surprised if it’s Clevinger.
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Bob Melvin, Blake Snell, Mike Clevinger, Nick Martinez, Sean Manea, Mackenzie Gore, Yu Darwish, Joe Musgrove, Matt Beaty