Thursday, April 18

Padres Daily: Bullpen’s chain reaction; Lamet learns; more Machado magic

Good morning from Pittsburgh,

Steven Wilson coughed up a two-run homer in the eighth inning, and Luis Garcia yielded some hard-hit balls in the 10th inning.

But last night’s loss could also be traced back to Dinelson Lamet surrendering two runs in the ninth inning Wednesday in Cincinnati and Craig Stammen getting in trouble in the ninth here Friday.

Both times, Taylor Rogers had to dance them out.

Rogers has been a godsend.

“Where would we be without him at this point?” Bob Melvin asked rhetorically on Friday.

But Rogers can’t pitch every night.

He did not pitch yesterday after earning a save each of the previous three days. He took just 21 pitches to get through those saves, but there was no chance Melvin was using him again.

The Padres almost got away with his being unavailable. Melvin pressed Sean Manaea as far as he could before turning to Wilson and Garcia. My game story (here) explains what happened and how rare it was for the bullpen to fail as it did.

At the ready

What Rogers worked through Wednesday and Friday were examples of how challenging it is to be a relief pitcher, having to stay ready virtually every day.

Even when it seems they won’t be needed.

“It’s Murphy’s Law,” Rogers said.

Relievers learn the hard way what happens that one time they lose focus.

“You always try to keep locked in,” he said. “It’s amazing how your mental lapses get exposed so quickly.”

This sort of thing is something to keep in mind as Lamet transitions from starting to the bullpen. He was thought during the spring to be a candidate for situations such as last night, but he has yet to fully take his new role from him.

“It takes time figuring out on your own what works for you,” said Stammen, who went from starter to reliever in 2011. “You don’t think you need a routine in the bullpen because it’s not routine, but you need to find a routine for the non-routine — so that you’re doing the same thing every day to prepare.”

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Lamet, who has given up four runs in 6 2/3 innings and allowed five of nine inherited runners to score, acknowledged being somewhat surprised by the process.

“From the outside looking in you think maybe being in the bullpen isn’t super difficult just because it’s a short stint of time,” Lamet said through translator Danny Sanchez. “But now, I’m finally getting to a point where I’m realizing what it takes mentally — my focus, the preparation. I’m taking it day by day, but I think it’s getting better.

“For me, maybe the most challenging thing has just been maintaining that mental readiness. Whenever I hear the phone ring in the bullpen, I want it to be me and I think that it’s going to be me. It’s really just maintaining that mental sharpness all throughout the game, continuing to be ready.”

Relievers say the most difficult part of their job is balancing rest and readiness. When they haven’t pitched in several days, they have to know how much throwing is enough without wasting bullets.

Coming into a game that is under way is also far different than a starter can imagine.

“It’s not as much physical,” Stammen said. “But mentally when you start the game, everybody is at the same spot when they’re starting. They’re all getting used to the game flow. When you come out of the bullpen, you’ve got to get yourself into the game flow, because they’ve all been playing for six, seven innings.”

It’s like joining a conversation that has been going on for several minutes and having to catch up.

“It’s learning how to ratchet up that intensity, and focus that quick,” Stammen said. “That is the learning curve. There’s a piece of the preparation too, being able to feel comfortable when you do go out there.”

Lamet’s fastball velocity has fluctuated this season, as has his command and the break on his slider. There are times he is as borderline unhittable as he was in 2020, when he posted 2.09 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in 12 starts. More often, his pitches from him do not have the bite they once did.

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Lamet said he doesn’t think coming out of the bullpen has affected his pitches, per se. But he did talk about no longer being able to build into an outing.

“As a starter sometimes the first inning and the second inning, you’re working through things,” he said. “You’re trying to get better. As a bullpen guy, you’ve just got to be ready to go, and your stuff has to be effective from the get-go. So I think that’s really what I’m working on, making sure my stuff is sharp from the get-go.”

A report by The Athletic on Saturday said the Padres have had talks with other teams about trading Lamet. Whether they can unload his $4.775 million salary is a pretty big question. And it would certainly help if he can figure out this bullpen gig.

My understanding is the Padres have made it known a number of their relievers can be had in trade. Moving Lamet (and his salary from him) would serve them best. But they expect to have an abundance of relief pitchers soon, as some good arms return from injury. They could get José Castillo back as soon as this month. Michel Bàez is targeted for an early June return. Adrian Morejón and Drew Pomeranz are not expected to be too far behind. By the second half, certainly, their bullpen could have a very different look.

tid bits

  • Trent Grisham was 2-for-5 last night, including his RBI single in the 10th. He and Austin Nola had combined to go 4-for-34 in the lead-off spot over the previous nine games. They also walked three times and were hit by two pitches. But that still made for just a .231 on-base percentage over that span.
  • Jurickson Profar is hitless (0-for-13) and has walked once in the past three games after going 8-for-25 with three doubles, two home runs and five walks in the seven games leading up to this skid. Last night was his seventh straight game batting cleanup.
  • Jake Cronenworth doubled, walked and scored twice last night while extending his on-base streak to seven games. He is batting .310 with a 1.015 OPS in that span.
  • Manny Machado hit a two-run homer, walked and scored twice, extending his on-base streak to 11 games. He is batting .462 with a 1.301 OPS in that stretch.
  • Of the 24 homers Eric Hosmer has hit since the start of the 2020 season, last night’s was just the third one to the opposite field. He is 9-for-19 with three homers and seven walks in his six-game on-base streak.
  • Last night was the 20th game a team managed by Melvin played extra innings since the start of the 2020 season. It was just the fifth time his team lost. The runner on second to begin extra innings began in ’20.
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tick tock

Machado made another barehanded play in the ninth inning to throw out a fast runner.

Asked about Machado’s internal clock in being able to read what needed to be done and doing it, Melvin replied, “My internal clock said he was going to be safe regardless. (Jake Marisnick) runs pretty well. So to be able to get to it as quickly as he did, field it perfectly and get off a quick throw from a tough angle, honestly, I didn’t think he had a chance. We see him do things every day that he makes look pretty easy.”

All right, that’s it for me. Day game today, though as I wrote in my notebook (here), it could be pretty rough going.

Here is what my phone tells me about the forecast for Pittsburgh this afternoon:

Oh, and here is what awaits in Cleveland, where the Padres are scheduled to play Tuesday and Wednesday:

cle weather

Hopefully, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

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