AP Sports Writer
SAN DIEGO (AP) – Fernando Tatis Jr. has become one of the faces of the San Diego Padres, with or without a facemask.
The exciting young shortstop has been taking coronavirus protocols seriously, including wearing a mask during summer camp workouts. He even wore one during a Zoom session with the media. The 21-year-old Tatis wants to play as much of the 60-game season as possible while keeping his teammates safe, even if only one other Padres player, outfielder Franchy Cordero, has regularly worn a mask on the field.
It’s one more factor that makes Tatis stand out, along with his blond dreadlocks and hard-charging style of play.
“He somehow finds a way to make it look extremely cool,” rookie manager Jayce Tingler said. “He seems naturally to have that ‘it’ factor when eyes are drawn to him.”
Tatis certainly had that factor last year, when he finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting despite playing in just 84 games. The Padres were more exciting when he was on the field. They struggled when he wasn’t, including for a month early in the season when he had a hamstring injury and then for the last 1 ½ months after he shut down with a stress reaction in his lower back. With Tatis out, the Padres tumbled to last in the NL West at 70-92, which got manager Andy Green fired.
Tatis has vowed not to change his playing style, which includes sensational plays at shortstop and headfirst dives on the base paths.
If he can stay healthy, 60 games might be right in his wheelhouse.
“I’m going to be the same player out there no matter what,” he said. “I feel in a pretty good spot right now.”
He said he anticipates being on the field every day. The Padres can rest him and still keep his bat in the lineup by using him occasionally as the DH.
“For those 60 games, I always like to aim high,” Tatis said. “I like to aim for crazy, crazy, numbers. But the most important thing is to prepare myself to every single day to be out on the field for those 60 games. That’s going to be the big part for me, trying to stay on the field every single day and bring the same energy I have every single day and hopefully give a little to my boys so we can come out of this together.”
He said he’s in the mindset of winter ball. “It’s a short season. I feel like everybody is going to be on that run, coming every day to bring their 100%, because it’s going to be a sprint.”
San Diego hasn’t been in the playoffs since winning consecutive NL West titles in 2005-06 and hasn’t had a winning season since 2010.
The Padres acquired outfielder Tommy Pham from Tampa Bay to bolster their anemic offense, and also got two-way prospect Jake Cronenworth in exchange for outfielder Hunter Renfroe and prospect Xavier Edwards. They added outfielder Trent Grisham and starter Zach Davies in a trade with Milwaukee, signed free agent reliever Drew Pomeranz and acquired second baseman Jurickson Profar from Oakland.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
The Padres could see the debuts of two of their top prospects, left-hander MacKenzie Gore and right-hander Luis Patino. Gore was the third pick overall in the 2017 draft and Patino was signed out of Colombia in July 2016 during their expensive international-signing spree.
This could be the Padres’ major strength. Pomeranz turned two stellar months in Milwaukee’s bullpen into a $34 million, four-year deal, bolstering a bullpen anchored by closer Kirby Yates, who led the majors with 41 saves. General manager A.J. Preller said Pomeranz pitching ahead of Yates is “going to be a tough combo at the back end of the game.” The Padres also obtained reliever Emilio Pagan from Tampa Bay. However, the depth was dinged some when hard-throwing Jose Castillo suffered a lat strain in an intrasquad game and Trey Wingenter is dealing with an elbow irritation.
The slugger has vowed to play better than he did during his first season after signing a $300 million, 10-year deal. “Obviously, with the shorter season you want to start off as hot as possible,” he said. “That being said, you don’t want to put pressure on anybody. You just try to go out there and have fun. Playing 60 games, I’m going to do everything possible. Hopefully, our whole team stays healthy. I think that’s the biggest thing.”