Bryce Miller: Ouch! Dodgers rough up Padres in spring training opener

If a Padres fan is hunting for a glass-half-full thought on the throttling at the hands of the Dodgers in a spring-training opener Thursday, it is this.

And only this: At least they got that out of their system.

It would have been the stuff of waking baseball nightmares, if only the 14-1 finish mattered. The Dodgers, a 100-win team a season ago who spent a mere $1.2 billion trying to plug a couple of holes, used their first inning of 2024 to spray baseballs like a lawn sprinkler.

Two runs and two more baserunners were in the books before the Padres recorded an out behind veteran starter Joe Musgrove. Six more runs followed before recording another out. Two ground-rule doubles. A home run.

The inning burned three Padres pitchers in all. The confidence? If any of it had counted, it would have been as disconcerting as a shoulder-sized dent in a new Lamborghini.

Perception can be an unwelcome nuisance, especially when perception kicks you square in the baseballs. There’s no way to avoid thinking, at least briefly, is this a preview?

The Dodgers inflicted immediate and significant damage without Shohei Ohtani, the most dangerous designated hitter on the planet? They ran around the bases like kids day without hit machine Freddie Freeman? They battered the opening frame like a pinata without Max Muncy, Will Smith and Jason Heyward?

Kevin Kopps throws against the Dodgers.

Kevin Kopps throws against the Dodgers.

(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Yes, this was Padres-Dodgers Light with some of the taste and none of the regular-season calories. You’re lying, though, if you didn’t notice the rugged beginning and cringe.

Suddenly, these are the finding-their-way Padres. They were the ones shouldering gargantuan expectations a season ago. They were spending titans, running down Juan Soto and Xander Bogaerts.

Then, the season crashed like a shopping cart dropped from 1,000 feet.

Then, Cy Young winner Blake Snell walked.

Then, elite closer Josh Hader walked.

Then, Soto was shipped off to the Yankees. Ditto that for Gold Glove centerfielder Trent Grisham.

Then, the Padres tightened their payroll belt.

Then, on a picture-perfect Arizona day Thursday, the Dodgers used a sledgehammer against a front-line starter as they engaged in a little bit of leg stretching to begin the spring.

The Dodgers’ first at-bat lasted so long that ESPN bailed on its in-game interview with right fielder Fernando Tatis Jr. one out into the marathon inning. Did they run out of questions? They could have asked one more: Fernando, how much would you pay to walk to the dugout right now?

When the interview ended, an ESPN announcer proclaimed it “was as long as Ben-Hur.”

“It did last a while,” Padres manager Mike Shildt said.

Jake Cronenworth celebrates after a home run.

Jake Cronenworth celebrates after a home run.

(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

So, the Padres latched onto any and all available silver linings.

Musgrove, whose day went walk-bloop single-hit by pitch-ground-rule double, avoided kettle bells. Outfield experiment Jackson Merrill, a shortstop who might leave the dirt behind this season, went horizontal to rob Mookie Betts of multiple bases.

Left-handed pitching pickup Yuki Matsui dusted the side in the third during his U.S. debut, sparking the loudest ovation of the day from Padres fans. Never mind that the only dustee you’ve probably heard of was Gavin Lux.

Ha-Seong Kim, a shortstop who moved to second, who sometimes fills in at third, who ended up back at shortstop after all, ripped a solid liner for his first hit of the spring in his first at-bat.

Jake Cronenworth, who homered once in every 45.8 at-bats a season ago, tattooed one to right-center to end the shutout in the fourth.

“It’s about compartmentalization,” Shildt said. “I mean, clearly we want to make sure we’re competing, (though) the scoreboard didn’t go our way today.

“Ultimately for me in spring training, it’s about looking to see if we’re on time with certain things, look at the little things, look at our spacing, just looking at our prep. We played a clean game defensively.

“So there’s a lot to take away that was positive and we build on today.”

The Dodgers' Kevin Padlo, right, celebrates with Andy Pages

The Dodgers’ Kevin Padlo, right, celebrates with Andy Pages after hitting a two-run home run in the first inning.

(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

So, did it matter? Not the result. Not in the spring.

The sense of where things sit in the baseball universe for 2024, though, made it feel a bit noteworthy. Seismic? Hardly. Telling? Possibly. Perhaps a little.

This was a pop quiz. The real test comes 17 time zones away, when the teams sprint into the regular season March 20-21 in Seoul, South Korea. That’s when we’ll see Ohtani, Freeman, Manny Machado and the early Padres answers for all those question marks on the lineup card.

Who’s in left field? Who’s in center field? Did Santa leave a few left-handed bats under the spring training tree?

Anyone exercising some realism knows this season is not about trying to chase down the Dodgers. They’ve tried to do that forever and learned again and again that the regular season runs through Chavez Ravine.

Then again, no one wants to get bullied in a cringeworthy way on the way to fighting for a spot in the postseason.

The tongue-in-cheek X account Baseball Images that Precede Unfortunate Events showed the Padres release of the game-day lineup with the blurb, “Happy Game Day to All Those Who Observe.”

They observed all right. They observed the Dodgers piling up runs.

The best response came from the 20-year-old Merrill.

“We want to win every game, no matter if it’s spring training or it’s playoffs or it’s regular season,” Merrill said. “Obviously … 14-1 is a result nobody likes. But we play ‘em again tomorrow, you know? Today was one day and (Friday’s) a new day. So we go to their spot and hopefully do the same thing to them.”

Maybe, just maybe, on a day with a rough start … that’s a start.

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