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Rookie HR leader Villanueva hits 2 to sink LA

May 27, 2018

LOS ANGELES -- Christian Villanueva, welcome to the National League home run race. Nearly two months into the 2018 season, the rookie third baseman has yet to stop mashing.Villanueva launched his 13th and 14th home runs this season, as San Diego rallied for a 7-5 victory over the Dodgers on

LOS ANGELES -- Christian Villanueva, welcome to the National League home run race. Nearly two months into the 2018 season, the rookie third baseman has yet to stop mashing.
Villanueva launched his 13th and 14th home runs this season, as San Diego rallied for a 7-5 victory over the Dodgers on Saturday night. He trails NL leader Bryce Harper by one and leads all MLB rookies.
"It's something I always dreamed of," Villanueva said. "To be up there on the board with those big names, it's pretty cool. It's awesome, especially after all the time it took me to get here, to be under the radar and knowing the work that I put in."
In other words: Those eight seasons spent toiling in the farm systems of the Rangers, Cubs and Padres? Worth it.
Saturday's effort put Villanueva's name in the Mexican baseball record books. He passed Geronimo Gil for the most home runs by a Mexico-born rookie in Major League history.
"It's really amazing," Villanueva said. "My son, I'm going to have things to tell him, stories to tell. So it's definitely special."
The first of Villanueva's blasts negated a two-run deficit in the top of the sixth. He turned around an 0-1 changeup from Dodgers starter Alex Wood and sent it into the left-field pavilion, tying the game at 5.

The Padres took the lead in the seventh on Jose Pirela's RBI single, before Villanueva gave them a measure of insurance when Josh Fields hung a curveball with his first pitch of the eighth.
"He's dangerous every time he steps in the box," said Padres catcher A.J. Ellis.
Ellis' first Padres homer comes vs. former club
Ellis and shortstop Freddy Galvis also went deep, giving the Padres a season-high four home runs. That was plenty of offense for the relief corps. Manager Andy Green gambled a bit, using all of his top arms ahead of Sunday's planned bullpen day. It paid off, as Tyler Webb, Craig Stammen, Kirby Yates and Brad Hand combined for 4 1/3 scoreless frames.

Starter Jordan Lyles allowed five runs over 4 2/3. He was hit hard in the fourth, when the Dodgers opened the frame with three consecutive hits -- including the first home run of the season for Justin Turner, who missed the first eight weeks with a broken left wrist.
In the fifth, Lyles lost any semblance of control. He allowed a one-out single, then walked three of the next four hitters as the Dodgers took a 5-3 lead.
Villanueva turned that around promptly. And his second homer came a half-inning after the third baseman committed two errors on the same Turner ground ball. After the game, Villanueva drew praise from his skipper for putting the blunder behind him so quickly.
"He regroups, hits another big home run for us," Green said. "When he gets pitches he can handle, he really does damage. That's the kind of mental makeup we really love seeing from our guys."

Webb gem: When Lyles' night ended with consecutive walks in the fifth, Green made a curious decision to call upon Webb to face righty John Forsythe. Webb made the most of a rare opportunity in a high-leverage spot. With the bases loaded and two outs, he ran the count to 3-1 before blowing a pair of fastballs by Forsythe to end the threat. It was an impressive showing from the left-hander who hadn't pitched since being recalled to the big league club on Monday.
"That's why we won this baseball game today, because he kept us close," Green said. "A lot of times that game slips away."
Matchup advantage: The Padres inserted Pirela in the No. 2 spot, splitting Travis Jankowski and Eric Hosmer in the batting order in the hopes that they'd gain a matchup advantage late in the ballgame. They got exactly that. The Dodgers called on left-hander Scott Alexander to face Jankowski, who was plunked on the wrist. That brought up the righty-hitting Pirela, who capitalized by bouncing his go-ahead single up the middle.

Yates' split-finger fastball has developed into one of the sport's nastiest pitches. He put it on full display with pinch-hitter Yasiel Puig at the plate as the tying run in the eighth. Yates' 3-2 splitter started at the bottom of the strike zone, then dipped to Puig's toes. The Dodgers slugger swung and missed for strike three. It was Yates' 13th strikeout this season in 26 at-bats that have ended with the pitch. He's allowed four hits -- all singles.

"He's growing. You go through a down like that, and you can get your dauber down sometimes. ... He got his head down for a little bit when that 0-for streak happened. Now he's more resilient for having gone through that." -- Green, on Villanueva's 0-for-37 drought earlier this month
The Padres are slated for a bullpen game on Sunday, as they await the return of left-hander Joey Lucchesi from a right hip strain. Matt Strahm will start things off against Dodgers rookie right-hander Walker Buehler, who pitched the first six innings of their combined no-hitter against the Padres earlier this month. First pitch is slated for 1:10 p.m. PT.

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