December 5, 2022

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Padres get the hits they've been missing

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SAN DIEGO — And just like that, the Padres fixed their offense.

OK, OK. It obviously won’t be quite so simple. There are still plenty of major question marks surrounding the current group of Padres hitters. But for all the external doom and gloom about the team’s woeful offensive showing this homestand, there clearly wasn’t any of that in the home clubhouse at Petco Park.

Sure, the Padres’ bats had gone cold. But they were facing some very good pitchers, they said. They were on the verge of getting some key pieces back from the injured list, too. Following their series-opening loss to the Cubs on Monday night, the Padres played music in the clubhouse, generally taboo after a defeat. The message was clear: The offense was sputtering, but it was only temporary. Things were going to be all right.

And sure enough, the Padres’ offense looked a lot more complete in a 5-4 victory over the Cubs on Tuesday night. San Diego hitters combined for 11 hits, including three from the slumping Jake Cronenworth and two from the similarly ice-cold Austin Nola and Jurickson Profar.

“Just a good day all around, including some key guys,” said acting manager Ryan Christenson. “It was encouraging to see some baserunners out there.”

Prior to the game, the Padres activated Wil Myers and Luke Voit from the injured list — moves that came slightly ahead of schedule, with the team in dire need of some thump. In an ideal world, the Padres would’ve given both some extra time on rehab stints to find their timing. Voit walked twice and Myers had an RBI infield single. But most of the damage came from elsewhere.

For the most part, Voit and Myers had struggled this season before landing on the injured list. But the Padres were quick to point to their mere presence as a driving force.

“It lengthens the lineup,” Cronenworth said. “It’s two huge bats in the lineup, Luke with some walks tonight, Wil with the big hit in the first inning. It was one of those things, we’re missing two really good players, and now they’re back. It’s awesome to have them back.”

Monday marked the first time in six games on the homestand that the Padres scored more than three runs. Questions still abound about this lineup — specifically the production, or lack thereof, from the outfielders. That will almost certainly be a priority come trade season.

And yet, the Padres are one of only six teams in the Majors to have reached 20 wins this season. They’re still waiting on the return of superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. And over the past couple of weeks, they managed to accrue victories without Voit and Myers.

“I think we’ve done a good job at holding our ground until those guys came back,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “We’re winning games. Maybe the offense isn’t putting up the overall numbers that we want, but we’re winning games. Now we get those guys back, so hopefully we can take off from here.”

Hosmer, of course, wasn’t part of that slumping offense. He went 2-for-4 on Tuesday night, raising his batting average to .356. Manny Machado, whose .379 mark is the only average MLB-wide that is higher than Hosmer’s, went 1-for-3 and broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth with a go-ahead single.

Mike Clevinger, making his second start back from Tommy John surgery, allowed three runs (two earned) over 4 1/3 innings. From there, the bullpen mostly held the Cubs in check — until the ninth inning, that is.

The usually reliable Taylor Rogers plunked two hitters and allowed two hits, loading the bases for pinch-hitter Frank Schwindel with the tying run on third base. Rogers’ command of his putaway slider, one of the nastiest pitches in the sport, had entirely deserted him.

“On the report, it says [throw] a back-foot slider,” Rogers said completely deadpan. “I think I did all right.”

He could joke afterward, because, well, he ultimately nailed down his National League-leading 12th save. But this one wasn’t easy. Without a reliable slider, Rogers threw Schwindel four fastballs instead. The fourth caught way too much plate, and Schwindel put a good swing on it, sending Profar to the left-field wall, where he coolly reeled in the 27th out.

“Profar’s reaction, I thought maybe we had a chance,” Rogers said. “Thankfully we did.”

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