Elevating Tatis Jr. the right call

  • San Diego Padres' Fernando Tatis Jr. against the San Francisco Giants during a baseball game in San Francisco, Monday, April 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. (23) catches a ball thrown to him during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Saturday, April 6, 2019, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Scott Kane)

  • The San Diego Padres' Fernando Tatis Jr. rounds third base after hitting a two-run home run against the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh inning at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Friday, April 5, 2019. The Padres won, 5-3. **FOR USE WITH THIS STORY ONLY** (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images/TNS)

The San Diego Union-Tribune
Monday, April 15, 2019

PHOENIX — Can you imagine?

“I know,” Fernando Tatis Jr. said with a smile. “We would have missed a couple things already.”

The Padres decided against manipulating Tatis’ service time, promoting him to make his major league debut on Opening Day, because they thought he was the best choice to be their shortstop and could potentially help them win all sorts of different ways.

They had no idea it would go like this. Not now.

The organization was, of course, high on his potential and the speed and power and defensive skills he already possessed. But they also were sure to provide plenty of caveats about how they would be patient with any early struggles.

Tatis will almost certainly struggle at some point, because that happens even to Hall of Famers.

“Struggles are going to come,” he said. “In fact, they’ve been here. There have been a couple games. … But I make adjustments. This is what this game is about. You learn every day.”

But it turns out starting the season with their No. 1 prospect on the team is among the biggest reasons the Padres entered Monday’s game against the Colorado Rockies with an 11-6 record, two games up in the National League West.

In addition to having a team-leading 11 RBIs and five home runs, Tatis’ four defensive runs saved are tied with Javier Baez for most among major league shortstops and are second on the team to Manny Machado’s five at third base.

Tatis conceivably could have still done what he has here this weekend had he made his debut Friday, which was the 16th day of the season. A call-up that day would have prevented Tatis from earning a full year of service time, which could have potentially delayed a gigantic payday in free agency.

More likely, the Padres wouldn’t have at least three of their victories without him, including on Saturday when his two-run homer in the third helped them edge the Diamondbacks 5-4.

Tatis has driven in and/or scored the deciding run three times — with a seventh-inning RBI double on Friday, a two-run homer on April 5 and a run after hitting a second-inning double on March 29. Furthermore, he has scored at least one run in six different victories, five of which have come by two runs or fewer.

His seven-pitch, two-out walk on April 3 led to him scoring the first run in a game in which the Padres would never trail. He was hit by the eighth pitch he saw leading off the seventh inning last Monday in San Francisco and went on to score the first of the Padres’ three runs that decisive inning in a 6-5 victory.

Tatis, whose 20th birthday was 103 days ago, is the fifth-youngest player since 1900 with four home runs, according to Elias Sports Bureau. He is the third youngest since 1955. Andruw Jones hit his fourth home runs at 19 years, 126 days on Aug. 27, 1996. Miguel Cabrera hit his fourth homer 78 days after his 20th birthday, on July 5, 2003.

“I’ll be honest, I didn’t know I would help the team like I’ve been helping,” Tatis said. “I’m just glad I’m doing it. I have worked for it. Now here we are.”