SAN DIEGO -- Good things happen for Eric Hosmer when he hits the ball in the air.The Padres first baseman has done that with much greater frequency since the calendar turned to September. It's no coincidence that home runs have followed. Hosmer crushed his 17th of the season on Saturday
SAN DIEGO -- Good things happen for Eric Hosmer when he hits the ball in the air.
The Padres first baseman has done that with much greater frequency since the calendar turned to September. It's no coincidence that home runs have followed. Hosmer crushed his 17th of the season on Saturday night in the Padres' 6-3 loss to the Rangers at Petco Park. With two men on base in the third, he sent a 1-0 fastball off the facing of the Western Metal Building in left field. It was his fourth homer in the past seven games.
"It's been somewhat of a home run binge here in the last week," Padres manager Andy Green said. "It's fun to see him get the ball in the air and have some success."
Hosmer's three-run shot put starter Eric Lauer on top, and Lauer left with a lead in the sixth after five-plus innings of two-run, three-hit ball. Rookie relievers Trey Wingenter and Jose Castillo coughed up that edge later in the frame. Robinson Chirinos' three-run double served as the decisive blow in a five-run Texas sixth.
As for Hosmer, the 2018 season -- his first in San Diego -- has been a grind. When he's slumped, he's simply hit the ball into the ground too frequently to drive in runs. For the year, his average launch angle sits at minus-one, the lowest mark in the Majors.
"We've been grinding, trying to find out what's the missing thing, what's been wrong," Hosmer said. "We just tried to break down what it is to get the ball in the air. I've tried to stay in my back side a little more. It's helped me see the ball a little better, see the ball a little deeper, and it's leading to some good [contact]."
Here's why that change is particularly noteworthy as it pertains to Hosmer:
When he can elevate, he can seriously drive the ball. Hosmer has homered on 20 percent of his fly balls this season -- well above the Major League average of 12.7 percent. Saturday's opposite-field blast was vintage Hosmer.
"He just looks synched up," Green said. "That home run down the left-field line, you go back through his career, that's the one he's hit over and over and over again. … It's really impressive."
When Hosmer doesn't elevate, he still hits the ball hard. But his 60 percent ground-ball rate -- second-highest in the Majors -- essentially puts him at the mercy of the infield defense six out of 10 times. In the seventh inning on Saturday, Hosmer hit a 98-mph rocket straight into the ground. It quickly became an inning-ending double play.
This month, Hosmer has upped his average launch angle to 4 degrees. That's not a big number by any stretch. But he's trending in the right direction. It's still a noteworthy shift that could portend future success for the Padres first baseman.
Lauer was sitting on just 81 pitches when Green called for Wingenter with a man on first and no outs in the sixth. After the game, Green noted the decision had nothing to do with fatigue for Lauer.
"I've got all the confidence in the world in him, but we've also got a lot of young bullpen arms down there that we want to see in big situations, that we think give us the best opportunity," Green said. "The choice to take him out is not a reflection on him or the quality of work he did."
Wingenter walked Adrian Beltre, before Castillo recorded two outs but loaded the bases. With the game hanging in the balance, Castillo grooved a 94-mph fastball to Chirinos, who plated all three runs with a double to the left-center-field gap.
"It didn't work tonight, but in my estimation it gives the team the best chance to win a baseball game," Green said. "Those guys have been really good, Trey and Jose. It just didn't happen tonight."
Said Lauer: "Our bullpen's great. They'll have hiccups here and there. I understand the decision. That doesn't mean I have to like the decision. I definitely want to pitch as deep in the game as I can -- and save our bullpen."
Rookie shortstop Javy Guerra recorded the first hit of his career in strange fashion. With two outs in the bottom of the third, Guerra hit a chopper to Elvis Andrus at short, and Andrus couldn't handle it. The play was initially ruled an error, but five innings later, that ruling was changed to an infield single.
Guerra had his first career hit, but he wouldn't find out until after the game. Fortunately, a Padres staffer had the foresight to keep the milestone baseball -- just in case.
Rookie right-hander Jacob Nix is looking to bounce back from a pair of rough outings after a strong first impression following his August callup. He takes the ball opposite Rangers left-hander Mike Minor on Sunday at Petco Park, with first pitch slated for 1:10 p.m. PT.
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.