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August 28, 2012

What You Need to Know

Tuesday, August 28

by Daniel Rathman

The Monday Takeaway
Padres fans got a glimpse into their future two months ago, when catcher Yasmani Grandal burst onto the big-league stage and quickly became the team’s primary backstop. They got another last night, when Casey Kelly—who was acquired from the Red Sox in the Adrian Gonzalez deal two offseasons ago—made his major-league debut with the weight of a seven-game winning streak on his right shoulder.

The 30th-overall pick in the 2008 draft, Kelly got his first taste of Triple-A this season, and he logged a 39-to-3 K:BB in 37 innings split between Tucson, Double-A San Antonio, and a rehab start in the Arizona League. Thus, general manager Josh Byrnes decided to give his seventh-ranked prospect a whirl. 

Grandal caught Kelly on Monday, and he handed the 22-year-old a 2-0 lead with a two-run shot in the bottom of the second inning. It was the sixth homer of the season for Grandal, who missed 16 games with a strained oblique earlier this month, but has impressed in his first 32 major-league contests. The 2-for-4 effort improved his triple slash to .284/.368/.529—good for an 897 OPS that, in limited playing time, exceeds those of Yadier Molina and A.J. Pierzynski—and it was all the help Kelly would need to earn the first victory of his career and boost the Padres’ streak to eight.

Facing one of the National League’s most potent offenses, but aided by the security blanket that is Petco Park, Kelly worked around Jason Heyward’s first-inning double and Freddie Freeman’s second-inning leadoff walk, and never looked back. After stranding Freeman at second base, Kelly did not allow another Braves batter to advance into scoring position.

In total, Kelly—who also collected his first major-league hit with a single in the fifth inning—needed 87 pitches (53 strikes) to blank Atlanta for six frames before giving way to the bullpen. Tom Layne, Dale Thayer, and Luke Gregerson nailed down the 3-0 victory, after Kelly allowed three hits, walked two, and struck out four.

The Padres, now 60-70 and still 12 games behind the division-leading Giants, are in the midst of a lengthy rebuilding process, during which they hope to assemble enough cost-controlled contributors to overcome the Giants’ and Dodgers’ financial superiority. Debuts like Grandal’s and Kelly’s both help to pass the time and brighten the light at the end of the tunnel.

Moreover, the Padres’ eight-game winning streak is something about which even the Dodgers and the Giants cannot boast. Los Angeles’ longest surge of the season spanned six games (May 17-22), and San Francisco’s was just snapped by the Braves at five (Aug. 20-24).

Tonight, the Padres will try to earn their ninth straight win, a feat they have not accomplished since their 10-game hike from May 15-25, 2009. Fellow rookie Andrew Werner, who downed the Pirates in his debut on Aug. 22, will get the ball and look to outduel Kris Medlen (10:05 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for on Tuesday

  • Giancarlo Stanton should get a warm welcome back to Miami after dropping bombs and turning heads throughout the Marlins’ 11-game National League West tour. The 22-year-old went deep in all three games at Dodger Stadium, but he needs to thump another tonight to match his career-high streak of four straight games with a home run. Stephen Strasburg, who has thrown six shutout innings in each of his three starts against the Marlins this season, stands in Stanton’s way, and the flamethrower has stymied the slugger in their past encounters, holding him to a 1-for-8 line with no homers and four strikeouts. Ozzie Guillen will counter with Ricky Nolasco in the series opener (7:10 p.m. ET).
  • After struggling with his command for much of June and July, James Shields appears to have righted his ship, amassing a 34-to-3 K:BB over his last five starts. But four of those outings have come in relatively easy matchups—at pitcher-friendly O.co Coliseum and Target Field, and at home against the Blue Jays and the Royals—and Shields will need to be especially sharp to stay on track in the middle match of the Rays’ three-game set in Arlington. The reigning American League Player of the Week, Adrian Beltre continued his August surge by going 3-for-3 with a home run on Monday, and he is a combined 16-for-33 (.485 average) with six big flies on this homestand, which has raised his average by 13 points and accounted for nearly a quarter of his home-run production for the season. Shields has baffled Beltre to the tune of a 9-for-34 ledger with zero walks and 15 strikeouts over the years, but maintaining that ownage may be a challenge tonight (8:05 p.m. ET).
  • When the Giants imported outfielder Hunter Pence in July, they were expecting much more than the .214/.266/.316 triple slash he has put up in his first 25 games since the trade. But perhaps a return to his first big-league home in Houston will spark the 29-year-old’s dormant bat. Pence is a .300/.351/.505 career hitter in 346 games at Minute Maid Park, and he went 4-for-11 with a home run during a three-game visit with the Phillies last September. He’ll square off with Bud Norris, while playing right field behind Matt Cain, who is 2-0 against the Astros this year, including his perfect game on June 13 (8:05 p.m. ET).
  • Jered Weaver was nearly untouchable in his first nine starts at the Big ‘A’ this season, but the tide turned in his most recent two. After tossing seven innings of three-run ball in a loss to the Mariners on Aug. 12, Weaver suffered a nine-run shellacking in a season-low three innings at the hands of the Rays on Aug. 17. A rematch with Clay Buchholz and the Red Sox is next on the 29-year-old righty’s docket, six days after he downed Boston by allowing two runs over seven frames at Fenway Park. Weaver will need to look out for the newest member of Bobby Valentine’s lineup, James Loney, as the former Dodgers first baseman went 8-for-23 (.348) in their crosstown showdowns before getting shipped up to Boston (10:05 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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