The Padres turn to pitching after Fernando Tatis Jr.’s surgery

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At this point a year ago, the Padres were as hyped as any other team in baseball. Now they seem like an afterthought in the National League West.

That’s what happens when you end a season on a 12-34 run, have a quiet offseason, and lose one of the game’s biggest superstars, Fernando Tatis Jr., to a slew of months to a broken wrist.

But don’t count the brothers out just yet. Tatis’ absence hurts, but the club could remain behind a pitching baton in the NL post-season race that should be better than expected – and will certainly be better than the one that ended in 2021.

Not surprisingly, their relief pitching also formed craters. The San Diego bullpen had the best ERA (2.89) in the majors through Aug. 10, but they also pitched the most innings at 480 1/3, and the club’s early pitching problems only put more strain on its auxiliary corps . The result? A 5.32 Bullpen ERA in the Padres’ last 46 games.

However, things are looking up for the Padres’ gun collection due out in 2022. Here are five reasons to believe in San Diego’s pitching this season.

Yu wanted to recover; cold too?

While neither lived up to expectations in 2021, with Darvish recording a 4.22 ERA over 166 1/3 innings and Snell recording a 4.20 ERA in 128 2/3 innings, both showed a look at the aces that the Padres thought they were getting.

Darvish struggled with a hip problem in the second half and his attempts to resolve the problem resulted in strained back and groin. Before the injuries hit, Darvish was one of the most effective hurlers in MLB, posting a 2.44 ERA and a 5.0 K/BB ratio in his first 16 starts in 96 innings, which followed a second-place finish in Finals voting to the NL Cy Young Awards 2020.

Despite his struggles after the All-Star break, Darvish finished the season with an expected ERA of 3.32 – based on quality of contact, strikeouts, and walks – making him one of the most likely rebound candidates this season.

Snell is more of a mystery. The 2018 AL Cy Young winner struggled with his first 19 starts last year (5.44 ERA, 1.91 K/BB), but after the All-Star break he found his groove and posted a 1.85 ERA and a 4.64 K/BB ratio over a six-start range from Aug. 3-Sept. 7. Unfortunately for San Diego, Snell ended his start on September 12 with a groin strain in his left adductor area and didn’t throw another pitch for the brothers in 2021.

Snell’s xERA was 4.86 as he struggled to limit hard contact and walks. But the lefty hasn’t lost his ability to miss shots — his 31.6% breath rate was the 12th-highest mark in MLB (min. 750 swings), while his 30.9% strikeout rate was the 8th-highest (min .500 thugs faced). ).

If Darvish and Snell are both healthy and serving well in 2022, watch out.

Less than a month after trading for Darvish and Snell, the Padres struck another deal for a starting pitcher, acquiring Joe Musgrove from the Pirates. Although that trade didn’t get as much attention as the other two, Musgrove became the Padres’ most reliable starter in 2021.

Musgrove threw the franchise’s first no-hitter in his second start of the season and led the brothers in innings (181 1/3) and strikeouts (203) while posting a 3.18 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. Unlike Darvish and Snell, whose performances fluctuated wildly, Musgrove was stable, posting a sub-4.00 ERA in five of the six months last season and avoiding the injury list.

It was an outbreak predicted during the truncated 2020 season, when Musgrove was one of two starting pitchers to record 50% or greater breath rates on multiple pitch types. The other was Shane Bieber from Cleveland, who won the AL Cy Young Award that year.

Musgrove’s slider and curveball remained dominant in his first season with the Padres. He capped batters to a .146 average and .234 slugging percentage at breaking balls last season, and he amassed a total of 154 strikeouts on sliders and corners. The right-hander threw a breaking ball more than half the time while reducing his four-seam fastball consumption to a career-low 19.6% and meddling a cutter more often.

Considering he’s had a career slugging percentage of .538 on four sailers – the highest number compared to any of his offerings – it’s not hard to see why he decided to recall it.

Given the uncertainty surrounding Snell, the Padres are counting on the 29-year-old to be the same pitcher he was last year.

Musgrove, meanwhile, is scrambling for a lucrative deal – he’s eligible for free agency after 2022. Another strong showing could land him a similar deal to 30-year-old left-hander Robbie Ray (five years, $115 million) and 31-year-old right-hander Kevin Gausman (five years, $110 million) last offseason .

Clevinger was supposed to be the Padres’ No. 1 starter, and he looked the part in his first few appearances with the Padres. However, he ended his start on September 23, 2020 with a right bicep strain and walked away from his start in that fall’s NLDS against the Dodgers after just 24 pitches after attempting to return in the postseason. The following month he underwent Tommy John surgery.

After missing all of 2021, Clevinger is back and set to rejoin a rotation that looks very different from his last pitch.

If Clevinger had emerged healthy from this season, the Padres might not have felt the need to trade for all three Darvish, Snell and Musgrove. But they did, and Clevinger is now the team’s No. 4 starter.

While it remains to be seen how he will look on his return, the 31-year-old has the potential to start at the front line. From 2018-2020, Clevinger’s 153 ERA+ was the seventh best among big league pitchers to pitch at least 300 innings, and his 3.24 FIP was the eleventh best.

Gore is waiting in the wings

As the Padres’ season came to an end and they were looking for someone who could put them in a couple of decent innings, it would have been nice to be able to turn to the guy who was the No. 1 in baseball in 2021. But MacKenzie Gore didn’t get the call.

The left-hander worked his way back up the minor league after encountering command issues early in the MiLB season in Triple-A. Gore threw 50 1/3 innings over four minor league levels and gave up 28 walks in 2021.

When MLB Pipeline unveiled its new list of Top 100 Prospects last month, Gore fell 80 spots, from 6th overall to 86th.

But Gore’s spring success has put the 2017 No. 3 draft pick back in contention for a major opportunity in the league. In his first three Cactus League games, Gore allowed two runs with four hits with 11 strikeouts and just one nine-inning walk.

That’s what Gore had in mind as he worked extensively with Ruben Niebla, the Padres’ new pitching coach, to sharpen his mechanics before the lockout.

Pitching depth has clearly been an issue for the Padres in 2021 but the club are now better equipped to handle the rigors of a 162-game season.

Gore, Chris Paddack, Ryan Weathers and Nick Martinez, who joined the Padres on a one-year, three-option contract after earning a 1.62 ERA over 149 2/3 innings in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball last season, are in the mix for fifth in the rotation, and former Top 100 contender Adrian Morejon will eventually be back from the Tommy John operation.

The added depth of rotation should have a trickle down effect on the bullpen, which has been outstanding for much of last season.

Dinelson Lamet, the team’s former ace, will take on a flexible bullpen role while San Diego try to keep him healthy. The Padres could also choose to field one or more of their fifth-starter candidates as relief to add length to the pin.

It may be a year later than they hoped, but the pieces are in place for the Padres to have the elite-pitching team they dreamed of last season, one capable of growing the team carry while waiting for Tatis to return.

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