With the season reduced to 60 games, every contest is critical, and the San Diego Padres will try to push their start to 3-0 against visiting Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.
“This is a sprint,” Padres rookie manager Jayce Tingler said recently. “You need to play well early.”
Fast starts, however, have not been the forte of the Padres over the last decade. Last year marked one of two seasons since 2009 that the Padres have had a winning record after 10 games. Although they were 11-11 after 22 games last year, they lost two-thirds of their early season games in both 2017 (15-30) and 2018 (10-20).
In fact, last season (31-29) marked the first time since 2010 that the Padres were over .500 after 60 games.
Will this year be different?
“It’s very encouraging,” Tingler said Saturday night after the Padres handed the Diamondbacks a second straight loss at Petco Park.
What’s most encouraging for the Padres is what they are doing at the plate. Over the first two nights of the season, the Padres forced Diamondbacks pitchers into 30 full-count situations and drew 14 walks. Last season, Padres hitters averaged 5.5 full-counts a game.
Sunday will feature a matchup of right-handers at opposite ends of their careers — Padres veteran Garrett Richards against Arizona’s Zac Gallen.
Acquired by the Diamondbacks in a trade-deadline deal with Miami last July 31, Gallen will make his 16th major league start Saturday a week shy of his 25th birthday.
Between the Marlins and Diamondbacks last year, Gallen posted a 3-6 record with a 2.81 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 80 innings. Although hitters batted only .212 vs. Gallen in his rookie season, he did issue 4.1 walks per nine innings — which could be a problem given the way the Padres are working the count.
His best game as a rookie, however, came against the Padres, who he blanked on one hit and a walk with eight strikeouts over seven innings in his only meeting with them.
Gallen labored in his most recent summer camp intrasquad game last Monday, giving up five runs on four hits in 52 pitches. But he is confident going into his first outing as the Diamondbacks’ No. 3 starter.
“I felt good,” Gallen said after last Monday’s final tune-up. “The body feels like, I think, where I would be any other time I go three innings, 50 pitches. Everything feels good, action on the stuff feels good.”
The 32-year-old Richards has one thing in common with the Padres’ Saturday starter, Dinelson Lamet. Both returned late last season from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.
In fact, the Padres signed Richards as a free agent before the 2019 season knowing he would miss most of the campaign.
“Just getting back on the mound last year gave me a big boost toward this year,” said Richards, who has a 45-39 record and a 3.60 ERA.
Richards has a 2-0 record and a 2.25 ERA in four career starts against the Diamondbacks.
Two of his three rehab starts of 2019 came against the D-backs. Over five innings against Arizona late last summer, Richards gave up five runs on five hits and six walks with six strikeouts in five innings.
–Field Level Media