The Coast News Group
Fernando Tatis Jr. and the Padres haven’t had much to smile about since the middle of last season. Now, the team’s biggest star will miss a chunk of this one with a fractured left wrist.
Fernando Tatis Jr. missed the 2022 season because of injury and suspension. File photo
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Padres will be happy campers if Tatis rebounds

Spring has sprung for the Padres and their fired-up fans, the ones just now getting back from FanFest.

We jest, of course.

But the amazing turnout at Petco Park recently for a shake-and-smile session between the Padre faithful and the players was an eye-opener.

It’s clear that no one is sleeping on the Padres this year, not after a season, and offseason, to remember.

The Padres, who advanced to just their third National League Championship Series in franchise history in 2022, are rolling into their facility in Peoria, Arizona, to start preparations for a year that is loaded with anticipation and expectations.

With a star-laden roster with as much, if not more, talent than their dreaded rivals to the north, there’s no dodging the weight the Padres carry into 2023.

The window for their first title is open and nothing can go wrong, right?

If only it were that simple.

Every squad has blemishes, even one that added All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts this winter. The trick is covering the shortcomings with excellence in other spots, and it appears the Padres have enough stellar parts to do just that.

But the Padres going into camp with question marks is a Peoria tradition. Before the first pitch on March 30, the opening day that we’re all itching for, the Padres, believe it or not, have some work to do.

First and foremost is someone that is usually front and center whether he’s playing or not.

Fernando Tatis Jr., despite having 20 more games to serve for cheating with drugs, is a full participant at camp. Teammates, coaches and boosters are eager to learn if the onetime National League MVP candidate still has his juice.

Bad choice of words there but can Tatis, 24, replicate the performances that made him one of baseball’s most electrifying players? Can he rebound from shoulder surgery and two wrist surgeries, and not playing for 16 months, and still be mesmerizing?

The quick answer is yes as boosters point to his age and his steady apology since getting his hand slapped.

But also know that putting a shoulder back together is akin to playing with a Rubik’s Cube. The chances of lining the ligaments and other moving parts just so after a labrum surgery is a crapshoot. There was a reason Tatis put up an epic fight to avoid the procedure despite his left shoulder repeatedly being displaced when put in a compromising position.

There’s no guarantee that Tatis will be the same player he was and we present Cody Bellinger as the perfect example. Bellinger, now with the Chicago Cubs, was the 2019 NL MVP and followed that with some clutch hitting to help the Los Angeles Dodgers to the World Series title.

But in toasting a postseason bash, an overzealous celebration resulted in Bellinger injuring his shoulder in the same area as Tatis. Bellinger had surgery and what followed was two seasons of him struggling to hit above .200 before being released.

Also where Tatis will play — we predict right field — must be determined, with Bogaerts at shortstop, Ha-seong Kim at second base and Jake Cronenworth at first base. Someone not on the move is third baseman Manny Machado, or is he?

Machado can opt out of his contract after this season and he won’t take a San Diego discount. Padres owner Peter Seidler isn’t shy about paying stars and Machado was watching when Seidler reached for his checkbook when outfielder Aaron Judge and shortstop Trea Turner were available.

Maybe the Padres, who already extended ace Yu Darvish’s deal, will do likewise with Machado. If doing so, it will cost a bundle ($40 million a year?) as Machado is being represented by a very astute agent in Dan Lozano.

The Padres will be entertaining no matter how all of this turns out. Like you, we can’t wait to tune in.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] and follow him @jparis_sports.