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5 big topics about the San Diego Padres and Fernando Tatis Jr. following his suspension

Breven Honda

The San Diego Padres spent their off day in Washington D.C. on Thursday getting ready to experience the reunion for their newly acquired players in 23-year-old superstar outfielder Juan Soto and first baseman Josh Bell from the Washington Nationals prior to the Major League Baseball trade deadline two weeks ago.

However, 30 minutes before first pitch of Friday’s game against the Nationals, San Diego Padres General Manager AJ Preller and Manager Bob Melvin held a meeting, dropping the news about the team’s star shortstop, Fernando Tatis Jr.

Tatis Jr., who had been playing rehab games in the Padres’ Double-A affiliate in San Antonio, Texas while coming back from an injured wrist, was suspended for 80 games on Friday, without pay for testing positive for Clostebol, which violates Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

With the announcement coming half an hour prior to the game, the team had to somehow take their focus away from the news following one of their 23-year-old stars and turn their heads back on the game.

Now, without the perspective of Tatis Jr. not returning for the remainder of the season, including the playoffs, the Padres have to stick with what they have and find a way to believe they can still achieve their postseason aspirations.

Here are five burning topics on what the Padres need to do, moving forward.

Related: Fernando Tatis Jr. suspension and wild NL Wild Card race

1. San Diego Padres are ‘disappointed,’ but have to move on

MLB: San Diego Padres at Washington Nationals
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Before the game, San Diego Padres players were in complete shock while not understanding why the team meeting was called.

“You don’t (meet) 30 minutes before the game unless there’s something serious,” Padres starting pitcher Joe Musgrove told reporters after Friday’s game. “So, to hear it was that and not a death was somewhat of a relief.”

Somehow, the players and coaches in the clubhouse had to turn their focus on the game as their other 23-year-old superstar, Soto, was making his return to Nationals Park follwing the blockbuster trade on Aug. 2.

After taking down San Francisco 13-7 on Wednesday at Petco Park, where they scored all 13 runs in two separate innings, the offense traveled with them as the Padres scored seven times in the fifth inning, en route to a 10-5 victory.

However, after the game, the team realized what the rest of the season will be like, despite expecting Tatis Jr. sometime within the next two weeks.

“It’s obviously disappointing for us. I’m glad we made the moves we did at the deadline. This is a blow for us, and we’ll have to move on. We feel like we have a good team still and sometimes you have to deal with some adversity as a team.”

San Diego Padres manager Bob Melvin on Fernando Tatis Jr’s suspension

Also read: MLB Power Rankings – Where do the San Diego Padres stand?

2. The San Diego Padres need to remain focused on the prize

san diego padres' juan soto, josh bell
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Padres still need to believe with the pieces they have, including the players the acquired at the trade deadline, such as closer Josh Hader and super utilityman Brandon Drury, in addition to Soto and Bell.

After the game on Friday, Melvin said not having Tatis Jr. for the stretch run is like a player having season-ending surgery.  

“Whether it’s an injury at this time of year to a key guy, you move forward, and your expectations don’t change,” Melvin said.

Last year when Atlanta won the World Series, they were without their young superstar in right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr.

The key to the entire season for the Padres has been their starting pitching to keep them in games and having five starters that can go six or seven innings on any given night is crucial down the stretch.

Entering play on Saturday, the Padres hold a two-game lead over Milwaukee for the third and final National League wild card spot and one-half game behind Philadelphia for the second spot in the wild card.

Now with the offensive addition of Drury, Soto and Bell, it deepens the lineup moving forward, especially as the Padres are in a stretch where they play 16-of-18 games against teams with records below .500.

3. Ha-Seong Kim needs to continue to find success

san diego padres' ha-seong kim
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

When the Padres knew that Tatis Jr. was not going to be ready for the season, they had to rely on Ha-Seong Kim, Jake Cronenworth and then-top prospect C.J. Abrams to hold down the middle infield positions.

With Abrams going to the Nationals in the Soto deal and Cronenworth finding everyday reps at second base, the Friars have relied on Kim to play shortstop.

Kim came to the San Diego Padres during the winter prior to the 2021 season from the Korean Baseball Organization, where he recorded 163 hits, 30 home runs and hit .306 for the Kiwoom Heroes in 2020. He also won two gold gloves in 2018 and 2019 for his stellar defense.

Now in America’s Finest City the past two seasons, Kim has adjusted to MLB pitching and life playing baseball in the U.S.

Since late June, Kim has hit .303 with 15 RBI and 9 doubles.

Now in a starting role, Kim has to continue to strive at the plate because the Padres know what they get out of him in the field.

Related: San Diego Padres as World Series contenders?

4. Rebuilding the ‘trust’ between Tatis Jr. and the San Diego Padres

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at San Diego Padres
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Off the field, general manager A.J. Preller and the front office have to figure out what is next for a player who signed a 14-year, $340 million contract before the beginning of last season.

Tatis Jr. is coming off a wrist injury that he suffered during a motorcycle accident, in addition to his shoulder that popped out multiple times last season.

Preller said he will have conversations with the 2021 All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger as to regaining the cooperation for Tatis Jr. to help bring a championship to the city of San Diego, as early as next year.

“We’ll start digging in to, more like the shoulder and the wrist; we’ll look more into that now because we’ll have some more time to have some conversations there. I think what we need to get to is a point in time where we trust. Over the course of the last six or seven months, I think that’s been something we really haven’t been able to have.

From our standpoint, obviously, he’s a great talent. He’s a guy that we have a lot of history with and do believe in. But these things only work when there is trust both ways. That’s going to be something we’re going to have plenty of conversation and at the time to talk with Fernando. If we’re going to have a partnership and a relationship, we’ve got to really make sure that’s strong.”

San Diego Padres’ A.J. Preller on Fernando Tatis Jr.

When the Padres acquired Soto, fans and people in the industry fathomed the idea of Fernando Tatis Jr. in the same lineup with Soto and third baseman Manny Machado.

That dream will not come until May of next season as Tatis Jr. has been suspended for the final 48 games of this season and the first 32 of next season, which means his season debut will not be until the season’s second month.

In addition, Tatis Jr. can not play in the upcoming playoffs nor the 2023 World Baseball Classic, in which he would have played with Soto and Machado with the Dominican Republic.

Related: Fernando Tatis Jr. and MLB’s highest-paid players

5. What can Fernando Tatis Jr. focus on during the suspension?

MLB: Game One-Colorado Rockies at San Diego Padres
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

For the next nine months or 80 games, Tatis Jr. will have time to ponder what direction he wants for the rest of his career.

Remember, he is 23 and has his entire career ahead of him. He has the opportunity and has to make that choice that is not only going to benefit him, but benefit those around him, which can also include his teammates.

In addition, it is not like Tatis Jr. is a bad person. Last year, both him and Machado took people out from the stands and brought them into the dugout and clubhouse during a shooting incident right outside Nationals Park.  

In this absence from the field and away from team facilities, Tatis Jr. has to reach out to those that will help him revive his career. There are players in baseball where they have been suspended but have helped turned their negative persona positive, including Nelson Cruz, who is also from Dominican Republic descent.

Cruz was suspended for 50 games in 2013, but in the last nine years, he has become a veteran leader and a go-to person in the clubhouse as his career continues to progress.

Tatis Jr. needs to utilize and ensure the help he gets can primarily benefit himself and hopefully from a Padres’ perspective, benefit the team in brown and gold pinstripes that plays at Petco Park.