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Rookies Villanueva, Lucchesi impressing early

Third baseman, left-hander making cases for Padres' long-term plans; injury updates on Hosmer, Myers, others
MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- Halfway through April, there's little doubt that Shohei Ohtani has been the American League's top rookie. That race is much tighter in the National League, where, by most objective measures, it's between two Padres.

Christian Villanueva and Joey Lucchesi have been the NL's top hitting and pitching rookies, respectively, through 2 1/2 weeks. It's an extremely small sample, but entering play Monday night, they've both been worth 0.8 fWAR. Villanueva has five homers and a 1.152 OPS, while Lucchesi owns a 1.66 ERA and 25 strikeouts over four starts.

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SAN DIEGO -- Halfway through April, there's little doubt that Shohei Ohtani has been the American League's top rookie. That race is much tighter in the National League, where, by most objective measures, it's between two Padres.

Christian Villanueva and Joey Lucchesi have been the NL's top hitting and pitching rookies, respectively, through 2 1/2 weeks. It's an extremely small sample, but entering play Monday night, they've both been worth 0.8 fWAR. Villanueva has five homers and a 1.152 OPS, while Lucchesi owns a 1.66 ERA and 25 strikeouts over four starts.

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Obviously, their early success is mostly attributable to the opportunity they've been given. But the early playing time wasn't a courtesy.

"They've earned it, both of them have," Padres manager Andy Green said. "We gave them opportunity, but then you have to cash in that opportunity."

With future jobs readily available in the rotation and at third base, both are making strong cases for inclusion in the Padres' long-term plans.

The duo offers an interesting juxtaposition, too. Villanueva toiled for eight seasons in the Minor Leagues before his callup last September. Lucchesi, meanwhile, was the fastest to reach the Majors from among all pitchers taken in the 2016 Draft.

"You can come a lot of different ways and still be a productive big league player," Green said. "You're happy for the guys that work [Villanueva's] path. And the guys that do it in a year and just fly through, you always believe really good players usually come really quick. That's what Joey's done."

"I've been feeling more comfortable, the more games I've pitched," Lucchesi said. "I want to stay here. I love it here."

Video: SF@SD: Lucchesi strikes out nine in strong outing

For Villanueva, it's a long-awaited opportunity, even though he's only 26. Stuck behind Kris Bryant in the Cubs' system, he became a Minor League free agent following the 2016 season. The Padres believed strongly in his upside and inked him to a Minors deal that offseason while he recovered from a broken ankle.

Their faith paid off. Since his Sept. 18 callup last season, only Aaron Judge has a higher slugging percentage than Villanueva's .753 mark.

It's far too early to open any discussions for the National League Rookie of the Year Award. But -- now that it's been brought it up -- it's worth noting that the Padres have had two in their history: Butch Metzger in 1976 and Benito Santiago in 1987.

Injury updates
• Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer returned to the lineup Monday night after missing two games with lower back tightness. Hosmer said the injury absence was mostly precautionary, given the early stages of the season.

• Right fielder Wil Myers is expected to begin a rehab assignment at Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore on Tuesday. He'll play two games there, and he could rejoin the Padres Friday in Arizona.

• Right-hander Kirby Yates threw off a mound for the first time since he landed on the disabled list with right ankle tendinitis. He felt no effects of the injury. Yates will be re-evaluated Tuesday before the Padres consider the next step.

• Center fielder Manuel Margot could begin baseball activity as soon as Tuesday, Green said. The club has yet to determine whether Margot -- on the disabled list with bruised ribs after being hit by a pitch last week in Colorado -- will require a rehab stint.

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

San Diego Padres, Joey Lucchesi, Christian Villanueva