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Villanueva hits 15th HR as Padres take series

MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- Christian Villanueva's case as the National League's top rookie is growing with every home run he hits.

He's at 15 now, tops among rookies and second in the NL behind Bryce Harper. And he's showing no signs of stopping.

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SAN DIEGO -- Christian Villanueva's case as the National League's top rookie is growing with every home run he hits.

He's at 15 now, tops among rookies and second in the NL behind Bryce Harper. And he's showing no signs of stopping.

View Full Game Coverage

Villanueva's latest blast sparked an 8-3 Padres victory over the Marlins on Thursday night at Petco Park. In the first inning, he sent a towering drive into the second level of the Western Metal Building. Then he singled as part of a three-run rally in the fifth.

Video: MIA@SD: Villanueva crosses the plate on an error

Eric Hosmer added three hits, and Hunter Renfroe and Jose Pirela had two apiece. The Padres took three of four from the Marlins, creeping to six games back in the NL West after a 15-13 May.

"We're enjoying winning, for sure," said Villanueva. "We're putting everything together -- the pitching, the defense and the offense."

The top four hitters in the Padres' lineup combined to go 9-for-16 with four walks Thursday. They chased Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen after 1 2/3 innings. With Villanueva and Renfroe sitting in the heart of their order, the Padres suddenly seem to be a tall task for soft-tossing left-handers.

Video: MIA@SD: Renfroe crushes an RBI double to left field

"We've got some options in there, some guys that can do some damage [against lefties]," manager Andy Green said.

Meanwhile, right-hander Jordan Lyles bounced back in a big way from his first shaky start as a Padre. Lyles worked seven innings of two-run ball, striking out seven. The Marlins scored twice in the second inning on four singles, but Lyles allowed little else.

After starting the season in the bullpen, Lyles' arrival has helped solidify the San Diego rotation. With Thursday's win, the Padres have won each of his last four starts.

Video: MIA@SD: Lyles goes 7 strong, K's 7 in a win

"They were resilient this month," Green said of his players. "They kind of found their stride in a number of areas, and Jordan sliding into the rotation is one of those things that helped us find our stride."

Talk of contention in the NL West is premature. The Padres still sit in last place with question marks throughout their lineup and the back end of their rotation.

But having entered May with a 10-20 record, San Diego's progress was certainly noteworthy.

Video: MIA@SD: Green on Lyles' performance in 8-3 win

"That's part of the grind of the season," Hosmer said. "There's going to be ups, there's going to be downs. The team that can flush … and move on, those are the teams that win consistently throughout the year. Over the course of May, we did a really good job of that."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Hoz heats up: After Lyles coughed up the lead in the second, the Padres responded instantly, courtesy of Hosmer. With the bases loaded and two outs in the second, Hosmer sent a missile to straightaway center that bounced off the glove of a diving Lewis Brinson. San Diego took a 4-2 lead and wouldn't look back. Hosmer has reached base at least three times in three straight games.

Video: MIA@SD: Hosmer drives in 2 with RBI single to center

No way, Jose: Among the final 17 hitters he faced, Lyles only allowed two men to reach base -- both on infield hits. One of those singles came on a misplay by Pirela in the top of the fifth. He atoned instantly. The Padres second baseman made a leaping grab on a J.T. Realmuto liner, then fired to first base in time to double off Derek Dietrich. 

Video: MIA@SD: Pirela makes a leaping grab, turns DP

HUGHES DEBUTS
Righty reliever Phil Hughes made his first appearance as a Padre after Sunday's trade from Minnesota. He entered a five-run game in the ninth inning and allowed two hits and a walk before he was removed with two outs.

"I thought he tired at the end," Green said. "It had been a long time since he was on the mound in competition. … It's fair to say that somebody who hadn't pitched for 12 days competitively is probably getting their sea legs under them."

Video: MIA@SD: Hughes records his first strikeout as a Padre

Indeed, Hughes hadn't pitched since May 18. Green called for closer Brad Hand with the tying run on deck, and Hand ended the game by punching out Realmuto.

Video: MIA@SD: Hand K's Realmuto to earn his 17th save

SOUND SMART
With his first-inning homer, Villanueva became the first National League rookie to homer 15 times before June 1 since Albert Pujols did so during the 2001 season.

"It's an honor to be among those names," Villanueva said. "Albert Pujols is going to be a Hall of Fame guy, without a doubt."

HE SAID IT
"He just never relents. There's a resiliency in him, even as you go through a tough stretch and don't feel great, you know that bounceback is coming. It's just the way he's wired, the way he comes to the ballpark every day. He's a great, great guy to watch for our younger guys." --Green, on Hosmer

UP NEXT
Walker Lockett will make his Major League debut in Friday's series opener against the Reds at 7:10 p.m. PT. The 24-year-old right-hander notched a 5.31 ERA over 10 starts for Triple-A El Paso. It's been a struggle for him this season, but the Padres have long wondered how his sinker would play against big league hitters. The Reds counter with righty Tyler Mahle.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Jordan Lyles, Christian Villanueva