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Padres Spring Training Round-up: February 22, 2021

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More baseball fun.

San Diego Padres Spring Training
Catchers Victor Caratini and Austin Nola head to the bullpens at the Peoria Sports Complex on February 21, 2021.
Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images

Good morning, Padres fans, and welcome to another week baseball action? With the last of the position players reporting to camp by today (most were already in Peoria, getting some early reps in and clearing MLB’s COVID protocols), we’re finally fully underway for Spring Training! Like I did last year, I’ll gather up some of the more interesting new and notes from various sources regarding the goings-on of the Padres’ spring training activities.

Feel free to post anything I missed down in the comments section, especially if you managed to get in and see any action yourself! I know fans are not allowed into stadiums/practice field areas, but maybe there’s some sightlines onto the practice fields.

With that, onto the news and notes:

  • RHP Chris Paddack took a step back in 2020. You know it, he knows its. While he was never one to dive into the numbers surrounding his starts previously, his performance last year necessitated a change. So, when the Padres approached Paddack during the offseason with specific data showing the reasons that his fastball took a significant step backward in 2020, he was all ears. “I was amazed and blown away with the analytical side of things on the difference between my 2019 and my 2020 fastball,” Paddack said. One of Paddack’s main issues the club identified was in his delivery, specifically the position of his front shoulder and where he would release the ball, affecting how his fastball performed. “It blew my mind,” Paddack said. “I was getting two-seam run on my four-seam fastball.” Said differently, instead of getting a late rise on his 4-seamer, like he did in 2019, he got drop and run, causing the pitch to veer into opposing batters’ barrels. Paddack says he spent a chunk of his offseason watching video of his starts from 2018 and 2019 in an attempt to rediscover his mechanics from those seasons. He says he’s made some alterations to his delivery as a result, and he’s revamped his conditioning. He also says he’s added “6-7 pounds of muscle,” mostly by staying disciplined and not heading to the nearest Whataburger from his newly acquired, 25-acre cabin outside of Austin, TX. If his fastball reverts to its 2019 form, the Padres envision a renaissance for Paddack in 2021, where he’s currently penciled in as the team’s 5th starter (something of a fall from grace for the 2020 Opening day starter). He’s clearly bought into the data; whether the results change, we’ll have to wait and see.
  • Also in Paddack news, he was among the pitchers to throw the first live batting practice sessions of spring training on Friday, along with Michel Báez, Adrián Morejón and Ryan Weathers. The group was closely monitored by coaches this offseason, as the plan is for them to pitch early in Cactus League action and get ample innings this spring. Those that saw the action reported seeing improvement from Paddack, not just with his 4-seamer, but with his curveball and cutter too. “He’s put in a lot of work this winter,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “The results so far have been good. We’ll just continue and see where it gets to.”
  • Yu Darvish arrived in San Diego this offseason after a trade with the Cubs, and he’s wasted no time picking the brain of Hideo Nomo, an advisor in the team’s baseball ops department. Earlier this week, Darvish and Nomo spent time chatting at the Peoria Sports Complex, and afterward Darvish revealed a few of the details. “Obviously he’s a legend,” said Darvish through an interpreter. “One time I tried to pick his brain and learn the forkball and the splitter, which I couldn’t at the time. Now that I’ve got some experience under my belt, I might be able to acquire that.” Hey John, you might need to update your pitch repertoire tracker for Darvish soon.
  • The Padres’ first full-squad workout is slated for Monday, and Tingler expects to have his full contingent of players available. Tingler acknowledged that center fielder Trent Grisham had a bit of a delay leaving his home in Texas because of the winter storm. But Grisham has arrived and is expected to fully clear COVID-19 intake screening by Monday.
  • As mentioned last week, RHP Dinelson Lamet feels he is back at 100% after doing what he needed to do to protect his long-term health. “My arm, honestly, told me to stop,” said Lamet, speaking to the media for the first time since he exited his final regular-season start on Sept. 25. “That’s what dictated that decision at that time, and I think I did it just in time so I was able to avoid something more serious.” The precise nature of Lamet’s injury remains mostly a mystery. Initially, the club announced a biceps injury, but he underwent the same type of platelet-rich plasma injection that’s typically used to combat elbow trouble. On Friday, Lamet acknowledged that doctors told him he might have torn a ligament and required Tommy John surgery had he kept pitching (emphasis mine). “My arm told me I needed to stop, needed to shut down before anything got worse,” Lamet said. “That was the diagnosis. Hearing from doctors, it was: If you keep trying to push through something when your arm is telling you to stop, you could end up doing damage to your ligament.” Still, team officials realize they aren’t quite through the woods yet. Lamet has yet to truly ramp up his throwing program. Specifically, he’s yet to fully begin ripping off his slider — his best pitch, but also the pitch that puts the most strain on his arm. Until Lamet gets into game action and unleashes that slider, one of the best in the sport, there will be quite a few people holding their breath (me included). Lamet threw a small number of sliders in his bullpen session on Friday, Tingler said, an important step as Lamet builds back from his October elbow injury last season.
  • The Padres are open to the possibility of using new catcher Victor Caratini as Yu Darvish’s personal catcher — as was the case for the duo in Chicago with the Cubs last season. But this spring, the Friars are going to prepare to have all 3 of their catching options, Caratini, Austin Nola and Luis Campusano, ready to catch Darvish, if need be. “I don’t know if that’s something we will do,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “Obviously, they’ve got history, and Darvish and [Caratini] have a very good relationship connection. Both guys, or 3 guys, will end up catching Darvish. Right now, Caratini’s taken him in his first bullpen, and they’ve done a lot of work together.”
  • Prospect alert: RHP Anderson Espinoza threw a bullpen session on Friday, as he continues his recovery from a pair of Tommy John surgeries that have kept him out of game action since 2016. Then the Padres’ top-ranked prospect, Espinoza currently sits No. 13 in the system and is surely headed for a future bullpen role. But the Padres are still optimistic he can make an impact.
  • The Padres announced plans to sell tickets for Spring Training home games at the Peoria Sports Complex. In accordance with COVID-19 protocols at the local, state and MLB levels, Peoria Stadium will operate at 16% capacity, meaning 1,960 fans will be allowed in the ballpark (better than nothing, I suppose). Tickets will be available for purchase in pods of two, four and six. Padres season-ticket members have presale access at 0900 Pacific on Tuesday, 23 FEB. Single-game tickets will then go on sale to the general public the following day at 0800 Pacific.

As for news, here’s a smattering from around the interwebz:

  • Looking for a 1-stop location for your general Spring Training questions? Head over to Padres.com, where they have a primer/FAQ section, covering everything from where Spring Training is happening to some of the lead stories for the year.
  • Padres beat writer AJ Cassavell explores whether the team will use a new rotation strategy in 2021. While the Padres spent most of the off-season acquiring a rotation full of #1 starters (RHP Dinelson Lamet, RHP Yu Darvish, LHP Blake Snell, RHP Joe Musgrove, and RHP Chris Paddack), a number of concerns lead to a question of whether they should just roll with those 5. Injury concerns linger around Lamet’s right elbow, and both Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove, despite their accomplished careers, have only cracked the 130-inning mark one time apiece. Add in the fact that, coming off a pandemic-shortened 60-game slate, it remains unknown how pitchers will handle the challenge of building back to 162 games. It seems entirely possible that the Padres open the season with a 6-man rotation, especially considering they open the year with 24 games in 25 days. In that case, LHP Adrian Morejon is the likeliest candidate for the extra spot. The 21-year-old is being stretched toward a starter’s workload, though he won’t be expected to work past five innings.
  • Count SI.com’s Matt Martell as a believer in the Padres. He writes that the club’s extension of Fernando Tatis, Jr. is a sign that the Padres, long a forgotten franchise in MLB, have emerged as one the sport’s perennial powers. Not only is the club going against convention and reestablishing the ways in which small-market teams operate, it’s a welcome, refreshing attempt for a team of their stature to build a sustainable winner by spending, and not just stocking up on prospect talent.
  • The SD-UT’s Kevin Acee reports that 2B Jake Cronenworth’s days as a pitcher are likely over. While Cronenworth did throw a handful of bullpen sessions last spring, he has not since. Barring the Padres being involved in a blowout and using him to save actual pitchers, the team will have Cro instead focus on just being a position player. “Right now, we haven’t even discussed him throwing any bullpens,” Jayce Tingler said over the weekend. “… That has been shut down. His focus 100% has been on being a position player.”

That’s it for today. GO PADRES!!!