Let’s start the season’s first series with something from the “Strange But True Fun Facts” department: Madison Bungarner has made more Opening Day starts at Petco Park than anyone on the Padres roster. He’s never played for the Padres.
For the third straight season Mad Bum will get the ball first for the visiting team at San Diego’s jewel of a downtown ballpark. The big disgruntled lefty started in 2019 for the Giants (and lost) then 2020 with the Diamondbacks (and lost). He’s first out of the chute for Arizona again in 2021, which means Fernando Tatis Jr. is very happy.
Of course, El Niño is pretty much always happy. But in his career he’s 6-for-11 with a double and two bombs against Bumgarner. His first two career big league hits came in that 2019 opener.
The Friars counter with Yu Darvish, making his San Diego debut. Darvish was acquired in a blockbuster trade in December after finishing 2nd in the National League Cy Young balloting with the Cubs.
Game two on Friday night features another high-profile Padres ace, newly acquired lefty Blake Snell in his first Friars outing. The 2018 American League Cy Young winner had a stellar Spring Training, allowing zero runs in Cactus League play. Snell could have easily been tabbed for Opening Day duties, as well, and with Darvish gives the Padres arguably the best 1-2 rotation combo in the game.
Arizona will throw righty Merrill Kelly a 32-year-old who spent nine years in the minor leagues before finally breaking through in 2019 and quickly became one of the Diamondbacks most reliable pitchers.
This is a 4-game set but at the time of this writing we don’t know who else is starting for the Padres. Manager Jayce Tingler is playing it coy with his rotation beyond Darvish and Snell.
Odds are Saturday’s starter will be Grossmont High School alum Joe Musgrove, meaning the first three games will all feature a Padre pitcher making his San Diego debut. Musgrove’s last Cactus League appearance was a ho-hum 5.0 no-hit innings with six strikeouts against Cleveland.
After that it’s down to Chris Paddack and Adrian Morejon, with rookie Ryan Weathers as a dark horse, to round out the rotation. If you’re hoping the Padres are delaying naming their weekend starters because they have a wild card to play with Dinelson Lamet making a surprise start, that’s the longest of long shots.
Lamet had a breakout season in 2020, finishing 4th in the Cy Young vote. He suffered an elbow injury in the last week and has been on a slower program to get ready. He’ll open the season on the Injured List and likely not make a Major League start until at least late April.
Arizona will go with lefty Caleb Smith on Saturday and righty Taylor Widener on Sunday.
Offensively, the Padres are missing a couple of pieces. Gold Glove winning centerfielder Trent Grisham (hamstring) and catcher Austin Nola (broken finger) are both on the IL but not expected to miss too much time. Their absence cleared the way for a pair of prospects to make the Opening Day roster.
Catcher Luis Campusano and utility man Tucupita Marcano are with the big league club. The 22-year-old Campusano made his Major League debut in 2020 and got his first hit, a home run, in his first game against the A's in Oakland. He's not a big surprise. Marcano, however, is.
The 21-year-old from Venezuela was invited to his first big league camp and simply hit his way to Petco Park with a .405 batting average and 1.098 OPS. The Padres have long said they don't care about service time or age. They want the best 26 players they can find on the team. Marcano's spot proves once again they mean it, and that's one of the many reasons they're on the short list of World Series favorites.