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Hosmer finding his role on talented roster

San Diego options Quantrill to Triple-A El Paso, recalls reliever Reyes
@AJCassavell
May 8, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- A year ago, the Padres signed Eric Hosmer to a then-franchise-record contract. They stuck him in the middle of their lineup and asked him to carry the offense. It didn't work. Hosmer's first year in San Diego was a bust, plain and simple. The former All-Star first

SAN DIEGO -- A year ago, the Padres signed Eric Hosmer to a then-franchise-record contract. They stuck him in the middle of their lineup and asked him to carry the offense.

It didn't work.

Hosmer's first year in San Diego was a bust, plain and simple. The former All-Star first baseman hit at a below-league-average clip, while his ground-ball and strikeout rates skyrocketed.

Fast forward a year. The Padres signed Manny Machado. They surrounded Machado with Hunter Renfroe and Franmil Reyes, two breakout sluggers. They put rookie phenom Fernando Tatis Jr. at the top of their lineup and told him to be the catalyst. In the middle of all that is Hosmer -- an important piece, but not the important piece.

It's working.

Perhaps there's something to be gleaned from the context of Hosmer's situation. He's hitting like the 2017 version of Eric Hosmer right now. In Wednesday's 3-2 victory over the Mets, he went 1-for-3 with a homer, bringing his wRC+ to 111 on the season. He's posted a .404/.429/.712 slash line over the past two weeks.

"He's not the one person that he felt like he had to be last year," said Padres manager Andy Green. "He's about winning, and when you're not winning, you press and try to do more and more and more. You try to find something you can do to make the team better. That weighed on him heavily. Now the club's in the mix, in the hunt, fighting hard to be in contention. He's just about winning baseball games."

That's not to discount the changes Hosmer has made. He's subtly altered his swing to boost his launch angle. It wasn't a drastic shift, and his launch angle isn't through the roof (or even close to league average). But after six weeks, Hosmer's ground-ball rate and his percentage of topped baseballs are the lowest in his career.

Still, Hosmer feels as though there are other factors at work that have prompted his sudden surge.

"It's hard to explain, but when you feel like you're in games, and you're winning games, it is different," Hosmer said. "I don't really know how to explain that. You're not looking at the scoreboard trying to figure out what's going on with the numbers. ... You just get lost in the game."

At 21-17, the Padres are off to their best start in nine years. The offense hasn't fully clicked (with Machado perhaps experiencing some of the same obstacles that Hosmer did a year ago). But Reyes, Renfroe and Tatis have contributed in a big way. The burden is off Hosmer.

Contrast that to last season, when Hosmer was thrust into one of baseball's worst offenses. The Padres had only 13 wins at this point a year ago.

"I certainly wanted to be the guy," Hosmer said. "And there were opportunities and situations where I really wanted to come up big for the team. Sometimes you didn't know if we'd have another situation like that in the game. Now, you're confident that situation's going to come up again."

Hosmer's eight-year, $144 million contract drew plenty of scrutiny last summer. Based on the early returns, some of it was deserved.

But the Padres are fine paying for this type of player even if he's not a perennial All-Star, especially considering Hosmer’s other attributes: He's immensely well-respected in all corners of the San Diego clubhouse.

When the Padres rallied to walk off the Dodgers on Sunday, Hosmer was lively in the dugout before the bottom of the ninth. Then, he led off the frame with a single off Kenley Jansen. That moment would quickly be forgotten when Hunter Renfroe mashed a walk-off grand slam.

It's precisely that context in which Hosmer is most comfortable.

"It's fun," Hosmer said. "It's fun seeing these guys grow, seeing myself grow, seeing this team grow. It's definitely a little different. With the energy here, your confidence is up more, and individually, you just feel good."

Noteworthy

• The Padres optioned right-hander Cal Quantrill to Triple-A El Paso on Wednesday, putting an end to their temporary six-man rotation. In two starts, he allowed four earned runs over 10 innings while striking out eight.

• In Quantrill's place, the Padres recalled righty reliever Gerardo Reyes, who owns a 4.15 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 13 innings for El Paso. It's possible Reyes sees a few big spots, as the Padres have struggled to find a bridge to their late-inning relievers since Trey Wingenter landed on the injured list with shoulder inflammation.

"We're looking for somebody to step up and claim that role," Green said. "We haven't been able to find that person."

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