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Lauer's stellar stretch ends in loss to Pirates

Lefty has first rough outing of June as Padres drop opener to Bucs
MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- On the whole, June marked a significant step forward for Padres rookie left-hander Eric Lauer. But his final start of the month -- a 6-3 loss to the Pirates on Friday night at Petco Park -- offered a reminder that Lauer has plenty of room to grow.

Over five shaky innings, Lauer allowed nine hits and six runs. He wasn't particularly sharp, but he got little help from his teammates. Only three of those runs were earned, and the San Diego offense sputtered early before mounting a late threat.

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SAN DIEGO -- On the whole, June marked a significant step forward for Padres rookie left-hander Eric Lauer. But his final start of the month -- a 6-3 loss to the Pirates on Friday night at Petco Park -- offered a reminder that Lauer has plenty of room to grow.

Over five shaky innings, Lauer allowed nine hits and six runs. He wasn't particularly sharp, but he got little help from his teammates. Only three of those runs were earned, and the San Diego offense sputtered early before mounting a late threat.

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"It wasn't our sharpest game behind him," Padres manager Andy Green said. "He made some big pitches. He made some mistakes."

Despite their 12 hits on Friday night, the Padres mustered just three runs -- all coming in the eighth and ninth. They've averaged 2 1/2 runs per game over the past two weeks, and they fell to 2-10 in that stretch. It's a notable step back from the two weeks prior, in which they went 9-4 and pulled within four games of .500.

The frustration boiled over Friday night. Lauer was called for a balk in the top of the second inning. Home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez made the ruling, and Green was vocal in his belief that it was the first-base umpire's call to make. Between the third and fourth innings, Green emerged from the dugout to argue and was promptly tossed.

Video: PIT@SD: Green on ejection, Lauer's start in loss

"That wasn't the story of the baseball game by any stretch," Green said, downplaying the significance of the balk call. "I don't think we were very clean early in the game. … We had a lot of hits today, created a ton of scoring opportunities, and didn't cash in on them."

The ejection offered little in the way of a spark. Jordy Mercer led off the ensuing frame with a home run to center field, giving Pittsburgh a 6-0 lead. Meanwhile, San Diego native Joe Musgrove tossed seven scoreless innings for the Pirates.

The Padres didn't muster a hit with a man in scoring position until Christian Villanueva's RBI single in the eighth. Eric Hosmer had three hits and Wil Myers had two. But both struck out against closer Felipe Vazquez with the tying run on deck in the ninth.

Video: PIT@SD: Villanueva lines an RBI single to center

As for Lauer, he was done in by a four-run third in which Austin Hedges and Freddy Galvis -- two of the team's most reliable defenders -- committed an error apiece. Lauer did himself no favors, allowing four hits in the frame.

It was undoubtedly his worst start of the month -- the caveat, of course, being that June was a much better month. Lauer finished May with a 7.67 ERA and questions surrounding his big league worthiness. He answered them by posting a 2.67 mark in June.

He was justly rewarded Friday night when Green stuck with him through five innings, despite his early troubles.

Video: PIT@SD: Margot throws out Osuna, call overturned

"I definitely could've been better," Lauer said. "The result could've been better. I could've made a few more pitches. … But that shows things are progressing to where they trust me to get through the fifth, even if things aren't going my way."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Crossed up: The Pirates had a 1-0 lead before Musgrove took the mound. With Josh Bell on third base, Lauer and Hedges had their signs crossed up. Lauer threw a fastball. Hedges was expecting a curveball. When Hedges went to his knees to make a block, the ball kicked off his knee and to the backstop. Bell scored easily on the passed ball, the first of three unearned runs.

Video: PIT@SD: Ball bounces off catcher, Bell scores

Not so glovely: The Pirates had men on the corners and a 2-0 lead when Elias Diaz sent a chopper up the middle with one out in the third. Galvis ranged to his left and made a nice snag. But he attempted an ill-advised flip with his glove, which pulled second baseman Cory Spangenberg off the bag. It was ruled an error, and two batters later Gregory Polanco plated both runners with a double.

BALK THIS WAY?
The Padres were adamant that Lauer's second-inning balk didn't change Friday's outcome. They were also adamant it wasn't a balk.

Video: PIT@SD: Green ejected over balk in the 2nd

Lauer, who leads the Majors with seven pickoffs this season, caught Polanco straying from first base. Then Hernandez chimed in. He believed Lauer had crossed the imaginary 45-degree line that separates a throw home and a throw to first base. Lauer vehemently disagreed.

"It wasn't a balk," Lauer said. "It's the same move I've always done. It's 45 [degrees] right on the line. Some guys think it's pushing it, but the rule is 45 [degrees], and it's on the 45. I can draw lines for him if he wants. But I don't think it's a balk."

The perceived inconsistency peeved Lauer most.

"There were a couple times when other guys got on that I actually tried to test it a little bit," Lauer said. "... I tried to go a little more than 45 just to see if he was going to call it again. I didn't get another call. I don't know why he wouldn't call all of them if he called one."

SOUND SMART
Friday's loss marked the 18th time in 19 series that the Padres have dropped the opener. Their lone victory in that stretch came on June 4 against Atlanta.

UP NEXT
Rookie left-hander Joey Lucchesi is inching his way closer to a full workload. He threw four innings and 70 pitches on Monday in his second start since returning from a right-hip strain that sidelined him for six weeks. Lucchesi faces the Pirates at 7:10 p.m. PT on Saturday, opposite Pittsburgh right-hander Trevor Williams. The Padres got to Williams for four runs in six innings in a May 20 victory at PNC Park.

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

San Diego Padres