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Lamet turning corner in return from TJ surgery

Padres right-hander has solid outing, but has room for improvement
@AJCassavell
September 7, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Without question, this version of Dinelson Lamet is better than the one who spent a month shaking the rust off following Tommy John surgery. After his July return, Lamet struggled to the tune of a 5.09 ERA in his first five outings. The Padres expected those struggles,

SAN DIEGO -- Without question, this version of Dinelson Lamet is better than the one who spent a month shaking the rust off following Tommy John surgery.

After his July return, Lamet struggled to the tune of a 5.09 ERA in his first five outings. The Padres expected those struggles, and they maintained that his talent would shine through eventually. Sure enough, since the beginning of August, Lamet owns a 3.18 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 34 innings.

Box score

Still, the Padres believe there’s another gear for Lamet to find. The right-hander was solid once again on Friday night. But he surrendered three runs in the first two innings, and the Padres fell to the Rockies, 3-2 -- their fourth straight loss, dropping them a season-high 12 games below .500.

“Innings one and two were a little harder on me,” said Lamet, who allowed three runs (one earned) over six innings. “I need to go into that bullpen more prepared, into that game more prepared, get hitters out on fewer pitches and be aggressive from the start.”

Those first two innings offered yet another reminder of the juxtaposition that is Dinelson Lamet. He owns a high-90s fastball and two swing-and-miss breaking pitches. But he’s struggled to harness his lights-out stuff with much consistency.

“The way he's [pitching] from the second through the sixth -- he can get to that in the first,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “We're going to have to continue to work to find that quicker. He's dug himself some holes. ... But overall, the stuff's really good, and he's pitching really well. We're encouraged, talking about somebody that's just coming back from TJ.”

It’s reasonable to wonder what the expectations should be for Lamet, who is less than 18 months removed from surgery. The mere fact that he’s pitching is a significant victory for the Padres, who need all the starting pitching depth they can get.

Thus far, Lamet has shown all the signs that he can be a useful piece in San Diego’s rotation of the future. By season’s end, Lamet will have built a solid foundation of 70 innings or so. Then, he’ll go through his normal offseason progression for the first time since 2017-18. The club is optimistic those factors could lead to a breakout in ‘20.

Lamet, meanwhile, is trying not to look too far ahead.

“First and foremost, I just have to be thankful [to be back] and thankful that I'm healthy and the way things are playing out,” Lamet said. “I'm handling things. Now it's a matter of getting to a more perfect level, or seeking perfection.”

High-leverage Hosmer

No Padre has been more productive with men in scoring position than Eric Hosmer, who drove in the Padres’ two runs on Friday night. In the bottom of the third, Rockies right-hander Tim Melville grooved an 0-1 fastball that Hosmer shot into center field for San Diego’s only offense of the night.

Hosmer is hitting .367/.421/.615 with men in scoring position -- not to mention a .421/.468/.614 clip with two outs.

“I'm just playing to the situation,” Hosmer said. “I'm locking into each at-bat, and there are certain situations where it calls for early contact. … When you see guys on base, you know a pitcher might give you one or two pitches to hit early, then he'll be looking to put you away with something. It might be time to make early contact.”

Hosmer’s fourth-inning single was his 40th hit with men in scoring position this season, making him the first Padre to hit that mark since Matt Kemp in 2015. No Padres hitter has eclipsed 40 since Chase Headley’s 48 in 2012.

Decisions, decisions

In one sense, Melville outpitched Lamet Friday night. In another, the difference between the two starting pitchers was two split-second decisions the Padres made during the first two innings.

With two men aboard and nobody out in the first, Manny Machado lofted a fly ball to left field, and third-base coach Glenn Hoffman opted to send Greg Garcia from third base. Garcia was thrown out at the plate on a perfect throw from left fielder Raimel Tapia.

“First inning stings a little bit,” Green said. “We haven't exactly been swinging the bats great lately, so Hoff took a chance over at third base. It didn't work out for us. They made a really nice throw to the plate. We've got [Melville] on the ropes right there. You want to make him pay a little bit. We didn't do that.”

Melville escaped, and the Rockies tacked on another run in the second on Trevor Story’s grounder to third. Machado made a nice running play, but his one-hop throw to first base bounced up the line.

Hosmer made the decision to stay on the bag and stretch, in search of the last out of the frame. The prudent decision would’ve been to concede the base, preventing the run from scoring.

“I was just trying to stretch and keep the bag,” Hosmer said. “It just got away.”

“That's his feel, that's his judgment,” Green said. “We trust his judgment.”

An inning later, Hosmer brought the Padres back within one. Ultimately, however, that run proved to be the difference.

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