Jake Cronenworth, Padres step up with Manny Machado out

SAN DIEGO — It was the very first day of Spring Training when the Padres learned they would be without superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. for the foreseeable future. From that moment, new manager Bob Melvin made his message clear: It would take a collective effort to replace Tatis. The burden, Melvin said, shouldn’t be shouldered by one person.

Three months later, the message hasn’t changed. Manny Machado — who shouldered perhaps more of that burden than anyone else — has now joined Tatis on the sideline with a left ankle sprain.

And in their first game without Machado, the rest of the Padres picked up the slack. They beat the D-backs, 4-1on Monday night at Petco Park to move into a virtual tie for first place in the National League West, percentage points behind the Dodgers.

Yu Darvish did his part, shaking off a grind of a first inning to complete seven frames for the fourth consecutive start. He allowed only one first-inning run, while striking out seven. Meanwhile, Jake Cronenworth and Trent Grisham went deep, while Ha Seong Kimfilling in at third base, smacked a go-ahead two-run single in the second inning.

“It’s, ‘Next guy up,’” said Cronenworth, who has been scorching hot all month. “That next guy up has stepped up huge in the absence of Tati. And now we have Manny out for a little bit, and the rest of the guys just need to continue to contribute.”

The Padres still don’t know when they’ll get Machado back. Late Monday night, he walked through the clubhouse without much of a limp, though he declined to speak with reporters about the injury.

On that front, the Padres hope to have more clarity by Tuesday. X-rays were negative on Machado’s ankle, which he injured on Sunday in Colorado after stepping awkwardly on the first-base bag. He was diagnosed with a sprain, the severity of which remains unknown.

Machado reported to the ballpark early on Monday afternoon and was moving around well, all things considered. Acting manager Ryan Flaherty noted that Machado’s ankle was bruised and still plenty sore.

If it were a different player, the Padres might’ve simply placed him on the injured list, without thinking twice. But this is Manny Machado, an early MVP favorite in the National League. If there’s a chance Machado could play a couple games early next week, the Padres want to have him available. They can always back-date an IL stint to Monday, so long as they make the move prior to their game on Thursday.

In the meantime, the Padres used largely the same formula they had used in the aftermath of Tatis’ injury. Their starting pitcher gave them yet another quality start, and their offense did just enough.

“It just gives us the breathing room that we need at the plate,” Cronenworth said of the team’s starting rotation. “As quick as these guys get us back in the dugout and give us a chance to get back at the plate and give us an opportunity to score some runs, I think that’s the biggest part of our success offensively.”

For Darvish, it represented something of an accomplishment that he was able to complete seven innings. He labored through a difficult first inning, in which he walked a pair, plunked another and allowed a single. With the bases loaded and two outs, Darvish won a seven-pitch battle with D-backs second baseman Buddy Kennedy, blowing a 96 mph fastball past him for strike three.

From there, Darvish was his usual dominant self. He allowed only one further D-backs hitter into scoring position over the next six frames, and he did so with his usual blend of six or seven different pitches.

“Obviously, I couldn’t really find the zone in the first inning,” Darvish said. “But I really wanted to go long, and I was trying to induce early contact after that. Fortunately, it worked.”

Said Flaherty: “That’s the true definition of an ace.”

Melvin’s message can just as easily be applied to the coaching staff. When he missed time earlier this season due to prostate surgery, bench coach Ryan Christenson filled in. Nine days ago, both Melvin and Christenson landed in COVID-19 protocols, and Flaherty took the helm.

On Monday, just before the first pitch, Christenson was cleared to return, but Flaherty remained in place as acting manager for the night. Christenson is expected to take control on Tuesday. Not that the title is all that important.

“This whole time, it hasn’t been one manager — it’s been a collaborative effort,” Flaherty said.

The Padres expect Melvin to be cleared to return on Wednesday, and when he does, he’ll rejoin a team that’s been living the mantra he has preached since Day 1.

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