A solid pitching rotation and defense win championships. The San Diego Padres (18–9) defeated the Miami Marlins 3–2 on May 6th to move within a half-game of the first place Los Angeles Dodgers. Their National League West rivals watched as the rain fell in Chicago, washing out their game against the Chicago Cubs.
The Padres are currently using a six-man starting rotation, but manager Bob Melvin and general manager AJ Preller are staring at some difficult decisions when lefty Blake Snell returns to the big league club. Snell is currently on a rehab assignment. In his last start, making an appearance for the Padres’ Single-A affiliate Lake Elsinore Storm, Snell pitched four innings. He gave up four runs (three earned) on four hits and struck out eight batters. Snell (groin) was placed on the 10-day Injured List (IL) on April 13th.
Snell is scheduled to make his 2022 debut on May 16th, in Philadelphia against the Phillies. When he does return, a seven-man rotation wouldn’t be a likely scenario. Most teams will employ a rotation of five starters, and may occasionally designate a reliever or prospect for a spot start. The Padres have been using a six-man rotation in 2022 thanks to the return of Mike Clevinger, the acquisitions of Nick Martinez and Sean Manea, and the debut of Mackenzie Gore. Also in the rotation are mainstays Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove.
When Snell does return, a player will have to be sent down to the minors to make room for him on the 26-man roster. Furthermore, a starting pitcher will have to exit the rotation. The name of that pitcher remains a mystery, as Preller hasn’t indicated what he will do when the day comes. This article will attempt to look at the rotation as a whole, and narrow down the options to the most likely candidate.
Nick Martinez – New to the Rotation
The Padres agreed to a one-year contract with Martinez on March 16th. Previously, he pitched in Japan for the Nippon Ham Fighters and the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, where he had a 3.02 combined ERA. Martinez could spend 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 changeup more often than his secondary pitches, throwing his fastball 107 times so far this season (36 percent) and his changeup 107 times (23.6 percent). Twelve of his 22 strikeouts this season have come courtesy of his off speed pitch, with hitters missing his changeup 49.2 percent of the time.
Martinez averages just below 93 mph with his velocity. Pitcher models show that his fastball often lands over the plate. Batters are hitting .412 and slugging .853 when he throws them his four-seamer. Three of the five home runs he has given up this season were the result of his fastball. This contrasts greatly with his changeup. Models show that most of these pitches landed below the strike zone or off the plate.
The fastball hasn’t yet found success, but the elusiveness of Martinez’s changeup 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 with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft. He made his major league debut this season, on April 15th against the Atlanta Braves. He pitched five-and-one-third innings in his debut, striking out three while allowing two runs on three hits.
When Gore was drafted, his potential suggested he had the makeup of an ace pitcher. Being a young, talented pitcher with lofty expectations, Gore is in a good position currently with the Padres. He is at the backend of a rotation with ace pitchers Darvish and Musgrove, along with Snell, Manea and Clevinger. Gore is 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 much more than any other pitch (68 percent) and used it in 15 of his 22 strikeouts so far this season. He’s found some success with his slider. Batters are swinging and missing nearly 30 percent of the time when he throws it.
Gore is only 23, and his expected successful career is only just beginning. The Padres would be insane to even consider trading Gore now that he’s made it to the big club. A more likely scenario would be if they decide to limit his innings by sending him down to the minors, bringing him up occasionally for major league starts. How that could affect his development as a pitcher is unforeseen. Either way, his future with the Padres is safe.
Mike Clevinger – Returned to the Rotation
Clevinger is back in the rotation after missing all of 2021 while recovering from a second Tommy John surgery. He suffered an injury in his pitching arm during Game One of the 2020 NLDS against the Dodgers.
Clevinger is in the final year of his contract and finds himself as the only starting pitcher in that position. Showing flashes of his former self should make Clevinger an attractive trade candidate for Preller. The franchise hasn’t indicated an extension for Clevinger, and may even frown at the idea given his injury history.
Clevinger is 31-years old and injury-prone. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if he is moved before or at the July trade deadline. On the one hand, he has postseason experience. That’s a valuable intangible in any clubhouse. On the other hand, he is not the only pitcher in the rotation with such experience. Snell has pitched 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.
How the Chips Fall
A trade is just one solution. One must consider the scenario that the Padres decide to retain all seven of their pitchers and keep all seven on the roster. One possibility is the Padres send Gore to the bullpen in an effort to limit his innings and keep him ready late into the season.
The team, however, still has other needs. Preller made attempts to add a corner outfielder before the 2022 season began. His only gain was Matt Beaty. If the team makes any moves in July, it will most likely be for a corner outfielder. If Preller sends a pitcher in return, don’t be surprised if it’s Clevinger.
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