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Villanueva reflects on time with Cubs

'It motivated me to work harder,' Padres rookie says
MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- For years, Christian Villanueva envisioned playing in the big leagues alongside Javier Baez, Albert Almora Jr. and the rest of his longtime teammates in the Cubs organization. On Friday night, he finally got to do so -- albeit from an opposing dugout.

Villanueva's long journey to the Majors has been well chronicled. He spent eight years in the Minors before his September callup last season. Four of those seasons came with the Cubs.

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SAN DIEGO -- For years, Christian Villanueva envisioned playing in the big leagues alongside Javier Baez, Albert Almora Jr. and the rest of his longtime teammates in the Cubs organization. On Friday night, he finally got to do so -- albeit from an opposing dugout.

Villanueva's long journey to the Majors has been well chronicled. He spent eight years in the Minors before his September callup last season. Four of those seasons came with the Cubs.

View Full Game Coverage

A highly regarded prospect in the Chicago system, Villanueva had his path to the big leagues blocked by Kris Bryant. Still, he moved quickly to Triple-A and appeared on the verge of a breakout in 2016.

Then, during a fielding drill at Spring Training in 2016, Villanueva leapt and fractured his right fibula upon landing. On the eve of the greatest season in Cubs history, Villanueva was in store for the roughest season of his career. He'd miss the entire year, and he was released by the Cubs that December.

"Obviously it wasn't the ideal way to end my time there with the injury," Villanueva said. "But at the same time, it motivated me to work harder. Thankfully, I've been able to have a good first season here, and I've been very blessed with the opportunity I was given here."

Villanueva has slumped lately, but he's still put forth an impressive rookie season. He's hitting just .226 but leads the team with 18 home runs. In April, Villanueva took home the National League's Rookie of the Month Award.

Video: Must C Classic: Villanueva homers thrice at Petco

It's quite the comeback tale, considering Villanueva's brutal 2016 setback. He signed a Minors deal with the Padres that offseason, then got off to a slow start at Triple-A in '17.

He's since turned things around in a big way. Now, he views joining the Padres as arguably the best thing that could've happened for his career.

"It was a great time with the Cubs," Villanueva said. "They gave me a shot. I don't think it's a secret that I was blocked by Kris Bryant. They were pretty honest with me when they let me move on. But I had a good time with that organization."

Villanueva went 1-for-5 on Friday. He was in the lineup batting seventh against Kyle Hendricks, his teammate at three different levels of the Minor Leagues, on Saturday.

"It's nice to see the guys that I came up with and played with during pregame warmups," Villanueva said. "But really once the game starts, they're my rivals."

Lyles takes the mound
Right-hander Jordan Lyles threw live batting practice on Saturday afternoon, facing a handful of Padres hitters on the Petco Park mound. It was the first time Lyles had thrown to hitters since he was scratched from his June 23 start against the Giants with elbow inflammation.

Manager Andy Green called Saturday's session "very encouraging." The next step for Lyles is likely a rehab assignment on Thursday at one of the team's affiliates.

Lyles is expected to throw three innings and around 45 pitches. If all goes well, he'll be re-evaluated afterward and could be recalled soon after that. That said, it's likelier the club opts instead for a second, lengthier rehab start.

Jankowski powers up
Travis Jankowski hit the longest home run of his career on Friday night, a 415-foot blast into the right-field home run deck at Petco Park.

"It was just a backup cutter up in the zone," Jankowski said. "It was just the perfect pitch to do that, right to the barrel."

Video: CHC@SD: Jankowski belts a 2-run homer in the 2nd

Clearly, that's the exception to the rule. Jankowski rarely puts the ball in the air. In the midst of baseball's fly-ball revolution, Jankowski is actively trying to hit the ball hard and on the ground.

He's one of four players in the Majors with an average launch angle below 1 degree. Given his speed, that's no accident.

"I always say, 'My goal is a line drive, but I want my misses to be ground balls,'" Jankowski said. "The other day against the Dodgers, I popped up twice to left field. That does nothing for me, it does nothing for the team. At least if I hit a ground ball ... anything can happen with me."

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

San Diego Padres, Christian Villanueva