SAN DIEGO – Dec. 29, when the final pieces fitted into a seven-player blockbuster that sent Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini to San Diego, marked an emphatic declaration of intent from Padres general manager AJ Preller.
He had already acquired southpaw ace Blake Snell earlier that day. But Preller wasn’t finished. He wanted more high-level pitching talent for his rotation and he wanted depth behind the plate. So Preller sent five players to the Cubs for Darvish and Caratini in a deal that sent shockwaves across the sport.
At the time, the Fathers probably envisioned nights like this.
Darvish was dominant in six innings, allowing just one run on three hits when the Padres beat the Giants, 3-1 on Tuesday night at Petco Park, a major win as well, with San Diego reeling from back-to-back losses and an injury to Fernando. Tatis Jr. Caratini, Darvish’s favorite drumming partner, stopped the effort with ease, as Darvish mixed eight different pitches to strike out seven Giants before being eliminated after 89 pitches.
So, and maybe the Padres weren’t imagining this part, Caratini won the game with his bat.
San Diego’s newest catcher hit a massive two-run homer just inside the right-field foul post, putting the Padres up by two. He stomped home plate with his left foot and retreated to the first base dugout, where he made sure Darvish was watching.
“Every time he hits a home run, he comes at me with that smile,” Darvish joked afterward. “I really don’t like that. … But it was good for the team, so I think that makes it good. “
That’s the playful nature of the friendship that Darvish and Caratini built over the years they worked together in Chicago. It hasn’t changed since they came to San Diego.
When asked about Darvish’s two 100+ mph lineouts as a hitter Tuesday night, Caratini said (with the straightest of faces): “I learned a lot, because he’s a very bad hitter. TO Really bad hitter. “
Strikes and spikes aside, Darvish and Caratini clearly click. Caratini has supported 28 consecutive starts at Darvish now, and has dominated the signals for Darvish’s 11 pitches. They have combined for a 2.87 ERA as a drummer, and Caratini was behind the plate last season when Darvish made a serious effort for the NL Cy Young Award, finishing second.
“They’re both on the same page, and they both have a lot of confidence in each other,” manager Jayce Tingler said. “They understand their game plan and are thinking together.”
Caratini also credited his work with Darvish for making him a more complete receiver.
“Being behind the plate these last few years has helped me a lot,” Caratini said. “I need to know how his pitches move. I need to know how each of them moves. I need to know how you are going to launch them.
“Every one of those pitches is good enough to get anyone out. So if you want to throw them differently at different people, I have to be aware of that. It has been a good experience for me and it has really helped me ”.
Tuesday marked a great victory for the Padres. No, they don’t have Tatis, and no, they aren’t sure when they will have him back. (Although they did get some positive news on that front Tuesday afternoon with the news that he will not be heading into surgery.) Without a doubt, this is still one of the most talented squads in the sport, even without their most electrifying presence.
In 2019, when the Padres lost Tatis during the season due to a back ailment, they failed, losing 29 of 44 to finish the season last in the NL West. On Tuesday, right fielder Wil Myers was quick to offer a reminder:
“This is not the 2019 team,” he said. “This is the 2021 team that is very good.”
In late December, with two blockbusters in the span of a few hours, Preller made absolutely sure of that.