SAN DIEGO – On the second anniversary of the most improbable comeback in Petco Park history, the Padres boosted their odds of a season-saving second half with contributions both familiar and fresh.
Blake Snell, the former Cy Young winner, and current pitcher of the year, continued to mow down opposing offenses by striking out 11 in six scoreless innings. And exactly two years after rookie reliever Daniel Camarena hit a spectacular grand slam against Max Scherzer, rookie infielder Matthew Batten connected on his first career home run against one of Scherzer’s teammates. The two standouts, unexpected or not, combined for most of the Padres’ stellar production in a 3-1 victory Saturday against the New York Mets.
Another time, it might just be a night to remember. For the 2023 Padres, this result is also needed. Friday’s 7-5 loss saw them lose a frustrated Ha-Seong Kim to a jammed toe, fall to 0-8 in extra-inning games and fall a game behind on a Mets team that faced San Diego in terms of utter disappointment. Sunday’s series finale will send only one of the two big-spending clubs into the All-Star break on a high note.
Regardless of the outcome, the next break won’t come soon enough. The Padres (42-47) are off to a 5-2 start in July despite a taxed rotation, a shaky bullpen and a lineup that is currently without a starting second baseman.
In Friday’s come-from-ahead loss, Kim was ejected trying to stretch a double into a triple, then pulled from the game after injuring himself kicking a water cooler. In Saturday’s bounceback, relievers Nick Martinez and Josh Hader continued to shoulder recent heavy workloads with scoreless innings apiece. In Sunday’s rubber game, Joe Musgrove will continue to pitch through bursitis in his right elbow – a condition he has dealt with occasionally since his high school football career – as fellow starter Michael Wacha is on the injured list with shoulder inflammation and because Musgrove doesn’t want to. leaving the Padres to exercise one less option.
“I feel like it’s important to get the ball,” Musgrove said Saturday afternoon.
Saturday night, Snell showed similar recognition of the moment. The reigning National League Pitcher of the Month threw 46 fastballs at an average of 96.6 mph, with a 98.8 mph heater registering as the second hardest of his career. He also threw 28 curveballs, 19 changeups and 12 sliders, getting more swing-and-misses with each pitch.
“It’s a real four-pitch mix today,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said, “and when he throws strikes — and he’s probably going to throw as hard tonight as we’ve seen him, as well — you almost have to guess. And if you guess and don’t get it right, you’ll miss it.
Blake Snell, 99mph ⛽️
5 K to 2. pic.twitter.com/2ttmfYGimL
– Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 9, 2023
“I always knew I was a four-pitch guy,” Snell said. “I waited a few years to get that back. I always had, like, two out of four that worked and then maybe three. … I think age is probably what kind of helped me mature and grow into the pitcher that I am today. .”
As of May 25, the 30-year-old Snell ranks first among qualifying pitchers in ERA (0.68), strikeouts (84) and opponents’ batting average (.155). After a naturally slow start to the season, he lowered his overall ERA to 2.85 and likely earned himself tens of millions more dollars in free agency this winter. He has also significantly increased his trade value, although the owner Peter Seidler does not seem to give up in a period where he has invested a lot of money.
Trading his most dominant starter is sure to come off, at least to some extent. The Padres’ record may explain, in part, why Snell was not selected to participate in an All-Star Game held in his hometown of Seattle. He took the mound Saturday knowing that two other National League starters — the Mets’ Kodai Senga and Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes — had just been named replacements despite carrying worse pitches. numbers.
“Congratulations to those guys. They deserve it,” Snell said. “For me, obviously, I want to play that game, pitch that game. So it’s not good, but I can’t control any of that. Just keep pitching, and if they think it’s worth it me, that’s in their hands.
Against the Mets, Snell did more than enough to improve his individual record to 6-7 – another reflection of a team that has consistently failed to sync strong pitching with persistent violation. His biggest support, it turns out, comes from an unheralded 28-year-old who has played 15 big league games in 2022 and, with Kim ailing, is making his first start in the majors. league in 2023.
In the bottom of the second, after Brandon Dixon drove in the Padres’ first run, Batten sent a changeup from David Peterson into the left field seats and floated around the bases as the sold-out crowd celebrates a two-run homer.
“I didn’t feel anything off the bat, and then running around the bases was unreal,” Batten said.
—San Diego Padres (@Padres) July 9, 2023
The home run was the first this season by a homegrown Padres player called after Opening Day. Batten, a 32nd-round draft pick in 2017, hit 37 home runs over parts of six minor league seasons. He spent more time in his career playing with Camarena in San Diego’s farm system than he did playing in the majors, and Saturday brought a neat bit of symmetry: Camarena’s two memorable grand slams and Batten’s first big league home run came on a 1-2 count on July 8.
“I’m happy to share that with him,” Batten said. “Hers might be cooler, but that’s nice.”
After a fifth win in seven games this month, the Padres’ standout performers agreed that the personal accolade was just a bonus. Every win, given their status as the fourth place team, was precious. Their offensive inconsistency continued – they failed to score in every inning but the second – but at least they did enough on both sides of the ball. For example, Batten placed a tag at second base to prevent a steal attempt. Later, shortly after Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez homered, Batten trapped a 105.5 mph line drive to prevent a potential rally.
“That’s why you play,” Batten said. “You don’t play for individual things. You know, it’s a first, it’s cool, it’s a (moment) I’ll cherish forever. But it definitely means more to do it with a win.
“Yeah, we need to win now,” said Snell when asked about the relationship between his increase in speed and the Padres’ desperate need for results. “It’s definitely something I think about, but I think as long as I do my job and get out there and get hitters to hit, then we’ll be fine.”
Another win on Sunday would have the Padres feeling as good as they have in a while. Kim, depending on how he responds to further treatment, could be available for the end of the first half. A familiar face will take the mound in the bottom of the first: Scherzer, the future Hall of Famer, is the scheduled starter for the Mets. The 38-year-old’s 4.03 ERA is a sign that, these days, he’s pretty beatable. And, for more inspiration, the Padres can use the memory of July 8, 2021.
(Photo of Padres infielder Matthew Batten tagging out Mets’ Brett Baty trying to steal second base: Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)