Young arms will be key for Padres in NLDS against Dodgers
Whether Mike Clevinger throws another pitch for the San Diego Padres this postseason is open to question. So is this: Might the Dodgers need to beat two precocious yet unproven arms to advance to the National League championship series?
The Dodgers arrived in October with concerns about postseason experience among their young pitchers, because the trio of Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and Julio Urías had combined for one playoff start.
But those guys are grizzled veterans compared to the two arms the Padres might need to prevail in the division series. With Clevinger and co-ace Dinelson Lamet injured, the Padres used a 20-year-old pitcher to make his major league debut Tuesday and might need to use a 21-year-old pitcher to make his major league debut in coming days.
By necessity and not by choice, the Padres are milking the 28-man roster limit for all the arms they can use. They included 15 pitchers on their NLDS roster. In the first round, they used 13 pitchers, none of whom got fewer than three outs or more than nine outs. They basically played three bullpen games.
They activated Clevinger to start the opener in this series. He had pitched just one inning in 22 days, with an injury first diagnosed as biceps tightness and later as elbow impingement.
Clayton Kershaw solidified himself as one of the greatest high school pitchers in Texas history 14 years ago near where he will start Game 2 of the NLDS.
He threw a hitless first inning, then his velocity dropped from a 94-96 mph fastball in the first to a 91-mph fastball with the first pitch of the second. He threw one more pitch, a slider, then the Padres removed him.
Clevinger said he experienced discomfort from the second batter he faced in the first inning, when he believed he had hit his front knee against his elbow. After the inning, he said, he threw weighted balls and got soft-tissue work done on his arm.
“It was like a NASCAR pit stop,” Clevinger said.
He said “the same kinds of sensations” returned in the second inning, and he described those sensations as “like a knocking in the back of the elbow, like my bones are hitting in the back of my elbow.”
Padres manager Jayce Tingler said he thought a long inning in the top of the second might have contributed to the renewed arm issues. “It tightened up,” Tingler said, “and never warmed back up on him.”
Tingler said Clevinger’s conditon would be evaluated and said he was “hopeful” Clevinger could return in this series.
“I’m not giving up,” Clevinger said, “and I don’t think anybody on that training staff is going to give up either.”
Perhaps the Padres get good news, and Clevinger can pitch again in this series. Or, perhaps, the Padres put Clevinger on the injured list, in which case they could not activate him again this season unless they reach the World Series.
That would give the Padres the opportunity to replace Clevinger with one of the most touted prospects in baseball, left-hander MacKenzie Gore. The Padres selected Gore, 21, with the third overall pick of the 2017 draft and signed him for a bonus of $6.7 million.
Gore has not pitched since Aug. 27, 2019, for the double-A Amarillo Sod Poodles. But the Padres might need a starter, and San Diego general manager A.J. Preller said Tuesday that Gore had not been included on the NLDS roster because the Padres emphasized relief help for an exhausted pitching staff.
Globe Life Field will seat 11,500 fans at each World Series and National League Championship Series game, but temperatures won’t be taken to gain admission.
“McKenzie is more of a starting pitching option,” Preller said.
The pitcher the Padres selected over Gore was Ryan Weathers, 20, the son of former major league pitcher David Weathers. The Padres picked Ryan Weathers as the first high school pitcher taken in the 2018 draft, the seventh overall pick, signed for a bonus of $5.2 million.
Ryan Weathers had not pitched since Aug. 30, 2019, for the Class-A Fort Wayne TinCaps. Preller said he believed Weathers could provide multiple innings over the course of the series.
Weathers made his major league debut Tuesday, retiring four of six batters without giving up a hit. For the Padres, that was good. That they tied a postseason record by using nine pitchers was not good. That they used nine pitchers for the third time in their four games this postseason bordered on ominous.
If they come back to beat the Dodgers, they may need a child to lead them, or two.
Shaikin reported from Los Angeles.
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