MIAMI -- A month and a half ago, the Padres decided it was more important that they test Eric Lauer's mettle in the big leagues, than it was to give him more seasoning at Triple-A El Paso. Lauer is getting tested, all right. And the results haven't always been pretty.
At times this season, Lauer has been sharp, as he was last Saturday against the Reds. But more often than not, it's been a grind for the 23-year-old rookie. That was the case again in the Padres' 4-0 loss to Miami on Friday night at Marlins Park.
For five innings, Lauer labored, allowing three runs and throwing an ungainly 111 pitches. He walked seven Marlins in the process. The lone intentional pass came back to bite him when Miami starter Caleb Smith swatted an RBI single on the next pitch for his first Major League hit, putting the Marlins up 2-0 in the fourth.
All things considered, it was something of a minor miracle Lauer managed to limit the damage to three runs. But that was plenty of support for Smith, who stifled San Diego for the second time in 12 days.
"[Lauer] gave us an opportunity to make a run at the game late," manager Andy Green said. "We just never mounted a charge."
In the fourth and fifth innings, Lauer loaded the bases and found himself on the ropes. On both occasions, Green let his rookie left-hander work through it.
The challenge was by design. Lauer had never thrown 111 pitches at any level. But Green saw an opportunity to test his resolve in a big moment.
"It was a good learning experience for me, and a good mental sign for me that he's comfortable leaving me in in those situations and letting me get that chance to grow," Lauer said. "Being able to work through those tough situations is something that I need to do."
The Padres' only real scoring threat came in the sixth, when they loaded the bases with one out against Smith. That spelled the end of his night, and right-hander Brad Ziegler entered to face Christian Villanueva. Green countered by pinch-hitting with the lefty-hitting Cory Spangenberg.
As decisions go, this one seemed like a tossup.
There's an obvious case to let Villanueva hit. He's second in the National League with 15 homers. But Villanueva has been abysmal against right-handed pitching this season, and the case for Spangenberg was equally clear cut.
In sporadic playing time, Spangenberg has struggled this year. But he has had success against the side-arming Ziegler, and he's been heating up this week. The left-right splits favored Spangenberg, too.
"Obviously, it didn't work out," Green said.
The drama never even got a chance to build. On the first pitch, Spangenberg chopped one back to the mound. Ziegler threw home to start a double play. For the Padres, it was that kind of night.
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Keeping it close: Lauer had already allowed two runs in the fourth when Brian Anderson came to the plate with the bases loaded. The rookie left-hander reached back for some extra velocity on his fastball. This season, that pitch has averaged 90 mph. Lauer's final two fastballs of the frame hit 93 mph, and the last one got Anderson swinging. The deficit was still two.
Hoz doubled up:Eric Hosmer smacked an opposite-field double in the top of the first inning, but he ran himself right out of scoring position one batter later. On Hunter Renfroe's relatively routine fly ball, Hosmer was caught too far off second base. Left fielder Cameron Maybin threw to second for an easy double play. After the game, Green noted that Hosmer merely got a poor read on where the baseball would land.
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These days, it seems like Lauer picks off a runner every game. He did so again in the bottom of the third inning, catching Anderson off first base. It's the sixth time in nine games this season that Lauer has picked off a baserunner -- the most in the Majors.
"It's a real weapon," Green said.
How is it still such a weapon, even when opponents know he has it in his back pocket? The success is twofold. Lauer's move is clearly deceptive, but he also gets rid of the baseball quicker than most left-handers.
"I don't think he's fooling as many guys as it looks like," Green said. "They think they've got more time, and then he gets that foot down, and that snap throw comes over a lot quicker than anybody expects. They're almost shocked by it."
Manuel Margot's third-inning double clocked in with a 112.9 mph exit velocity. That's the hardest Margot has hit a baseball this season, and it's not even close. (He hit a 108.4 mph lineout on May 14.) The second-year center fielder has slumped for most of the season, but there are signs he could be breaking out. Margot, who is 5-for-16 with four walks in June, also hit a 104-mph rocket that Lewis Brinson tracked down a step shy of the center-field wall in the fifth.
The Padres have won each of Tyson Ross' last five starts, and he'll take the ball on Saturday afternoon in Miami with first pitch slated for 1:10 p.m. PT. Ross was solid in his two starts on the Padres' recent homestand, but game circumstances limited him to just 87 and 91 pitches. With an extra day of rest, courtesy of Thursday's off-day, Ross should be fresh as he squares off with Marlins righty Dan Straily.