PHILADELPHIA — Is this really the end of the Padres’ starting rotation? Because if so, it’s time to warn the rest of the league: the bottom of San Diego’s rotation looks a lot like the top of a few others. Maybe better.
In their 3-0 win over Philadelphia on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park, the Padres used a piggyback in which right-hander Mike Clevinger took the ball first, followed by left-hander MacKenzie Gore. There aren’t enough starts left to go around, so the Padres have found a creative way to keep their electric rookie on the mound on regular rest.
This game plan worked perfectly. Clevinger has been brilliant in his third start since returning from Tommy John surgery. He pitched five scoreless innings and one hit, needing only 75 pitches to do so. It was, hands down, the best Clevinger had watched since the 2020 operation, spring training included.
“Clev was awesome,” Gore said afterwards. “He set the tone. I came in and tried to do the same as him.
Gore, meanwhile, was making his first professional appearance in relief, minor leagues included. He worked three goalless frames, striking out four of 40 pitches. Buoyed by a two-hit night from newcomer Robinson Canó, the Padres had plenty of offense to move to 3-1 on their road trip and 23-13 overall.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the depth of that starting rotation. What exactly are the Padres supposed to do with all those pitchers?
Perhaps the answer is simple: use them. If you have a lot of good throws, you don’t lose them. And if a disproportionate number of those pitchers are starters, you find a place for them — especially when the bullpen has proven to be somewhat leaky as of late.
Right now, the Padres happen to have seven healthy and capable starting pitchers. Gore’s move to the bullpen was prompted by the upcoming return of Blake Snell from the injured list. When Snell completes his first outing on Wednesday, it’s entirely possible the Padres could piggyback Nick Martinez, another of their starting pitching options, on top of him.
“The ceiling is very high for everyone involved,” Clevinger said. “I’ve been around this game long enough to know you can never get enough. It’s always good to have those reinforcements. It’s always good to have those guys who can support you. They will recover their time there again.
There are secondary benefits to keeping seven competent starters on your pitching team. For one thing, the Padres didn’t need to push Clevinger beyond his limits on Tuesday night.
“We’re still so early in the season,” Clevinger said. “Obviously, I don’t want to leave any game, ever. But it was probably for the best.
The veteran will almost certainly be on a sleeve restriction this year, following his second elbow surgery. If the Padres can lighten his workload early in the schedule, they just might be doing themselves a long-term favor.
The Padres are also lightening the workload of Gore, a rookie who, frankly, hasn’t thrown much the past two seasons. Plus, there are huge benefits to giving the bullpen a break every few nights.
On Tuesday, Gore covered the sixth through eighth inning, the closer Taylor Rogers making his 14th save. But interim manager Ryan Christenson said he would have considered giving Gore a fourth inning if the Padres had extended their lead.
“If you go to three or four guys [in the bullpen] regularly, and the workload starts to pile up, to have a guy there that can clear three innings…and potentially finish a game, that’s pretty big,” Christenson said.
Said Gore, who is clearly okay with his new role, “When you can save innings for the bullpen, it’s a long season, that always helps.”
Gore picked the brains of veteran reliever Craig Stammen on how to handle entering a game out of the bullpen. He decided he wouldn’t treat it as a start, because it wasn’t. So he shortened his routine and threw fewer warm-up throws. And then…
“It was just kind of baseball once I got out,” Gore said.
There will come a time when this level of pitching depth will come in handy. It was only last season, after all, that the Padres dealt with a slew of injuries and found themselves completely without rotation options in September.
For now, they are content to flaunt their abundance of riches, sometimes twice in the same night.