France brings power to Padres' 2B experiment

September 2nd, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the past two offseasons, the Padres locked down their infield corners with franchise cornerstones on record-setting contracts. In 2018, they signed as their long-term first baseman. This February, they inked at third.

Those moves left , an unheralded 34th-round Draft pick out of San Diego State, without an obvious path to the big leagues.

So France created his own path -- with his bat. If he continues to hit like he did Sunday at Oracle Park, the Padres are going to need to find room for him somewhere.

In an 8-4 victory over the Giants, France launched a go-ahead home run to right field in the second inning. Then he went the other way for a three-run shot in the sixth. After entering the game with two Major League home runs, France doubled that total in the span of three at-bats.

“You hit two homers in a game, that’s a good day,” France said.

France probably didn’t envision his first multi-homer game coming as a second baseman. But ultimately, his bat was too good for the Padres to ignore. So they approached France with an idea this spring. Would he be open to playing some second base?

“I really never even thought about second base until they asked me,” France said. “There was never a moment where I thought: ‘Maybe I'm a big league second baseman.’ I didn't even think about that. I was kind of just filling a need.”

France had never played the position. But when they asked, he didn’t hesitate. If it put him on course for the big leagues, he was all for it. Sure enough, France has played a solid, though unspectacular, second base. Meanwhile, his bat could finally be translating.

“He's making adjustments, and he's learning things,” said Padres manager Andy Green. “Since he's a smart guy, since he's a worker, you're confident he's going to continue to figure things out.”

France batted .399/.477/.770 with 27 home runs at Triple-A El Paso, en route to winning Pacific Coast League MVP honors this season. When Fernando Tatis Jr.’s season ended early because of a back injury, France was recalled, with Luis Urias sliding to shortstop.

If France hits like his Triple-A numbers suggest he can, it might present the Padres with something of a dilemma at second. Urias has long been considered the team’s second baseman of the future. But he’s struggled at the plate in limited playing time this season.

Then again, so has France. He’s hitting just .231/.283/.381 in 49 games. The bar at the plate is higher for France, too, given what Urias brings defensively.

Still, if France begins to hit down the stretch, it could set up a nice spring competition in 2020 between France and Urias, with the lefty-hitting Greg Garcia in the mix as well.

“We’ll see,” Green said. “Right now, the short term is all we’re really concerned with. He’s helped us win a baseball game today -- in a big way.”

Homer-shy Hosmer

Hosmer doesn’t recall ever hitting for the cycle at any level.

“Triples were tough,” he quipped.

Not on Sunday. Hosmer sparked the Padres’ four-run sixth inning with an opposite-field liner off the wall in left-center. When he dove head-first into third base, it left him needing a home run for the cycle.

Hosmer came to the plate two more times, but he never got a pitch to do any damage with. He walked in the seventh, then struck out in the ninth.

“Obviously you’re going for it,” Hosmer said. “It’s a great problem to have. When you’re one hit shy of the cycle, that’s a pretty good day.”

Strong start, strong finish

From the first out to the last, the Padres got contributions from some unlikely sources.

Garcia opened the game with an eight-pitch battle against Giants right-hander Jeff Samardzija. On the eighth pitch, Samardzija grooved a fastball, and Garcia shot it over the right-field wall for his fourth homer of the season -- a career high.

“That one really felt good,” Garcia said.

“That set the tone,” Hosmer said.

Eight Padres recorded hits, and set a career high with nine strikeouts over six innings.

Then, in the ninth, Green went to right-hander -- one of three September callups Sunday -- with a four-run lead. Bednar worked a 1-2-3 inning in his debut, keeping closer Kirby Yates fresh.

“Great team win,” Green said. “A lot of contributions from a lot of different people.”