Fernando Tatis Jr. cleaned to swing the bat

SAN DIEGO — The collapsing Padres needed a boost, and it’s hard to imagine a bigger one than this:

Finally, Fernando Tatis Jr. has something of a trajectory to return to the field. The superstar shortstop got approval to begin his sweeping progression, and he started it with easy work from a tee on Friday afternoon, manager Bob Melvin said.

Earlier this week, Tatis underwent imaging of his broken left wrist. After a few days of internal discussions between doctors and team members, Tatis was cleared to start wrestling – the main hurdle to be cleared before a timetable could be set for his return.

“It feels like it’s been a really long time,” a smiling Tatis said from his locker at Petco Park ahead of the Padres’ opener game against the D-Backs on Friday night. “I just want to be out there with the boys, be in this jungle with them.”

At the moment, the Padres are giving Tatis’ schedule week by week. There is also some flexibility. They’ll slow things down when Tatis’ wrist is sore. You’ll speed it up when he’s feeling good. However, there are some indications that Tatis could return sometime in early August.

Notably, the Padres had previously indicated he would need a 10- to 14-day build-up period before facing a live pitch. This progression starts with tee work, then light toss, then hitting practice. With that schedule, Tatis could start live pitching in late July. From there, it’s a question of how long it would take for Tatis to find some level of timing on the plate.

“With any injury, you have to be flexible,” said AJ Preller, the Padres’ president of baseball operations. “We will be in constant contact with our doctors. … It’s going to be a week-to-week thing, honestly.”

Tatis underwent surgery on March 16 to repair the navicular bone in his left wrist. At the time, the Padres offered a three-month schedule. This recovery period has taken longer than the Padres and Tatis expected.

“No fun,” said Tatis. “But we find a way to manage ourselves and be in a good position mentally and physically, and here we are.”

Tatis has been cleared for almost all other baseball activities. He generally spends time picking up grounders, throwing them, and working on his stamina before each game. He’s also got some reps taking flyballs and making throws in the outfield.

Tatis’ return would give a major boost to a Padres offensive they could certainly use. Overall, it’s a mediocre lineup that has struggled mightily against quality pitching. The Padres have a collective wRC+ of 99, which puts them slightly below the league average offensively.

A key area for improvement, of course, is the shortstop, where the Padres have combined for a .219/.299/.327 slash line this season, generally with a move from Ha-Seong Kim and rookie CJ Abrams. Tatis, on the other hand, slashed .282/.364/.611 with 42 home runs last season.

“Obviously, as a healthy player, Fernando is a hitter,” said Preller. “He adds that element of energy to our team. And then of course he can do a lot on the pitch. He can hit the ball out of the stadium. He can score with his legs. He’s a threat and he makes the other guys in the lineup better.

“He adds a lot. We’re excited to see him start swinging a racquet, see him progress and definitely look forward to bringing him back into the lineup.”

Of course, it remains possible that Tatis could return as an outfielder – or at least as a shortstop/outfield hybrid. The Padres insist that that is a question for another day. Ultimately, the answer likely depends on how active Preller is at the close. As things stand it seems likely the Padres would trade for at least one outfielder and if they trade to add enough punch to their outfield mix Tatis would remain exclusively at shortstop. (That’s his stated preference, after all, though he’s said he’d be open to a temporary move if the team needs it.)

Wherever Tatis plays, his presence in this line-up is welcomed with open arms. After a strong start to the season, the Padres recently faltered. As of Friday, they had lost 14 of 20 and lost significant ground in the National League West. It was a team in desperate need of good news, and that good news came loud and clear on Friday.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a while,” Melvin said. “To be able to say that he’s starting his shot progression is a good day. It puts a smile on everyone’s face. It’s going to be tea today, and we’re going to take it literally from day to day. We try to stay away from timelines. …

“This has probably gone on a little longer than anyone would like to see, certainly more so than anyone else. But today a smile on his face looking forward to getting in the cage and getting a bat in hand.”

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