SAN DIEGO -- With every trip to the plate, Franchy Cordero looks more and more like a big league hitter and an integral piece in the Padres' future outfield.On Thursday night, Cordero was just about the only hitter who could solve the Cardinals' pitching, pounding out three of his team's
SAN DIEGO -- With every trip to the plate, Franchy Cordero looks more and more like a big league hitter and an integral piece in the Padres' future outfield.
On Thursday night, Cordero was just about the only hitter who could solve the Cardinals' pitching, pounding out three of his team's five hits. Raffy Lopez launched a solo homer, too, but the rest of the offense fell flat in a 2-1 loss to St. Louis at Petco Park.
Cordero -- who has earned Statcast™ fame for his mammoth home runs and laser line drives -- nearly made it a 4-for-4 night, sending a towering fly ball to the left-field warning track in the ninth, but Marcell Ozuna chased it down.
"The pitch beat me just a little bit," Cordero said through a team interpreter. "If I'd got it a little more out in front, we'd probably still be playing."
Still, Cordero's progress at the plate is undeniable. He arrived in the Majors last May with the same raw power and bat speed. But he was far too swing-happy. This year, Cordero is chasing 27 percent of pitches outside the zone -- a decrease of 11 percent from last season.
He's forcing pitchers to throw strikes, and he's making them pay when they do. That was the case again Thursday when Cordero singled in the second, fourth and seventh innings to bring his slash line to .281/.349/.500.
"They're really good at-bats," manager Andy Green said. "He's really taken steps forward almost every single day."
"It's experience," Cordero said. "I'm learning something every game."
On the mound, the Padres asked for at least three frames from Jordan Lyles, who had spent the season in the bullpen before he was called upon to take the rotation place of Bryan Mitchell. He gave them five innings.
With Lyles in cruise control in the fifth, Green allowed him face a red-hot Tommy Pham in his third trip through the order. The decision backfired when Pham rocked a solo homer into the left-field seats, putting the Cardinals ahead, 2-0.
"I had no anticipation of letting him go into the fifth inning today," Green said. "I thought he was really good. Evidently, I let him go one batter too long, but I thought he earned that right, couldn't have asked for anything more."
Lyles bounced right back by punching out Matt Carpenter for his sixth and final strikeout. He allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits and one walk.
"I was trying to go as deep as I could," Lyles said. "But on the other hand, I wanted to keep that mentality of attacking guys and not holding anything back. ... I was attacking guys more so than maybe last year, when I was starting."
Lyles' five-inning effort came as a pleasant surprise for the Padres, but he was out-done by Miles Mikolas who worked 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball in his return to the Petco Park mound. Mikolas couldn't cut it as a reliever in San Diego in 2012-13. He spent three seasons as a starter in Japan before signing with St. Louis in the offseason -- a sound investment for the Cardinals, as Mikolas lowered his ERA to 2.51 on Thursday night.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Early offense: Pham created his own run in the top of the first, with a bit of help from the Padres' battery. He opened the game with a single, then advanced to second on Lyles' wild pitch and third on Lopez's passed ball. Pham scored the game's first run when Jose Martinez lifted a sacrifice fly to center field.
Double trouble: Cordero opened the seventh with a single off Mikolas, before he was promptly erased on Chase Headley's double-play grounder. That twin-killing proved costly, as Lopez followed with a booming home run to straight-away center field, his second of the season. Instead of a tie game, the Padres trailed, 2-1, and didn't threaten after that.
D-backs right-hander Zack Godley has become a quality starting pitcher, largely because of his hard curveball. Godley, like Lyles, is a South Carolina native, and the two worked together during the offseason with Lyles picking Godley's brain about the high-octane breaking pitch.
This season, Lyles also has upped the velocity on his curve. He tightened his grip on the pitch, and it's averaging 84 mph. If that number holds steady for Lyles in the rotation, it would be the hardest curveball among all Major League starting pitchers. He threw 23 curves Thursday (averaging 83.6 mph) and recorded five swinging strikes and five strikes looking.
HE SAID IT
"I had a battle with Pham, fell behind 3-2. I wanted to throw a better curveball, but he's seeing the ball really well. He's a really good hitter. He made me pay on a mistake, and that's what good hitters do." -- Lyles
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Jose Pirela is still searching for his first home run of the season. He came about a foot shy in the bottom of the fourth inning. Pirela launched a 106 mph rocket off the very top of the left-field wall. Cardinals left fielder Marcell Ozuna played the carom perfectly and threw to second base ahead of Pirela's slide. The Padres challenged the ruling, but the call stood, and Pirela was out. Cordero followed with a single that could've tied the game, but it went for naught.
Eric Lauer has already made three big league starts, but Friday night he will finally take the ball in front of his home fans; the left-hander is scheduled to start the second game of the series, with first pitch at 7:10 p.m. PT. The Cardinals counter with right-hander Luke Weaver. The 22-year-old Lauer is coming off six scoreless against the Dodgers.
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.