SAN DIEGO– One year ago to this date, Christian Villanueva was preparing for his first season with the Padres organization in AAA-El Paso.
On Tuesday, he had a monstrous evening at Petco Park, leading the big league club to their first win of the season.
In front of 19,283 at Petco Park, Villanueva hit three home runs and drove in five as the San Diego Padres beat the Colorado Rockies 8-4.
“It’s fun watching guys succeed like that,” stated Andy Green after the game, reflecting on Villanueva’s performance. “He was great tonight. There is no doubt that he has enough juice to hit it out of the park. The power is real.”
When asked if Villanueva earned more playing time with his impressive performance, the manager left no room for doubt:
“He’ll be out there tomorrow.”
Villanueva was not the only Padre who contributed on the offensive end. Jose Pirela singled twice and scored twice for the Padres, who improved to 1-4 on the season. Hunter Renfroe (1-3, BB, 2R), Freddy Galvis (1-4, 2 RBI), and AJ Ellis (1-3, BB) rounded out San Diego’s eight-hit attack.
The eight runs scored was a early-season high.
In his first start with the Padres, Tyson Ross recorded a quality start, throwing six innings and giving up three runs on five hits. The start was a welcome sight for the Padres, who were looking for a solid performance from the right-hander. Although Ross did not miss many bats and gave up some solid contact early on, he retired the final eight hitters he faced.
“It was a battle, but he settled in,” said Andy Green, talking about Ross’s season debut. “He did not have command early on.”
Green also complimented his club’s defense as a great help. Hunter Renfroe made a highlight-reel diving catch in right field in the first inning to rob Nolan Arenado of an extra base hit. LF Jose Pirela also had two outfield assists to back Ross.
After five and a half innings, it seemed as if the Padres were perhaps headed towards their fifth straight loss to open the season. However, the home team pushed across three runs in both the sixth and seventh innings to pull away.
The sixth inning was when the Padres took control. Jose Pirela started the inning with a ground ball base-hit out of the reach of shortstop Trevor Story. After an Eric Hosmer strikeout, Hunter Renfroe drove a double down the left field line to move Pirela to third. The two-bagger also ended the night for Rockies starter Kyle Freeland.
After reliever Scott Oberg came into the game and hit Christian Villanueva with a pitch to load the bases, Freddy Galvis came to the plate. The shortstop worked a six pitch at-bat that ended with a two-run single to give the Padres a 4-3 lead. The next batter, Carlos Asuaje, hit a dribbler back to Oberg. Having one of the best games of his life, Villanueva raced home from third and beat the throw with a nifty slide to make it 5-3.
An inning later, the Padres capped off another three-run inning with Pirela, Renfroe, and Villanueva involved again. After a Jose Pirela single with one out and a two-out Hunter Renfroe walk, Christian Villanueva stepped up to the plate. He promptly unloaded on a 0-1 fastball by Antonio Senzatela for his third home run of the night. It traveled 391 feet into the left field seats.
The home run earned him a curtain call from the Friar faithful.
The Rockies made things interesting in the ninth of reliever Kaz Makita, putting the tying run on the on-deck circle with two outs in the ninth. However, Andy Green quickly brought on closer Brad Hand to end the threat and record the save.
What we learned:
Three for Villanueva
In his second start of the season at third base, Christian Villanueva made his presence felt in a lineup that desperately needed it.
The Mexico native homered three times and drove in five runs. He was responsible for the first two Padres runs, both on solo shots in the second and fourth innings. Villanueva then capped off an incredible performance with a three-run home run in the seventh inning to pad the Padres lead. He now has seven career home runs in 40 plate appearances at the major league level.
The third base duties for the Padres have been split between Cory Spangenberg, Chase Headley, and Villanueva during the season’s first week. Needless to say, this performance tonight has certainly earned the 26-year-old some more playing time.
“If he has good at-bats and does that consistently, he will have a successful career,” Andy Green stated.
The return of Tyson Ross
Tyson Ross, who signed a minor league deal with San Diego this past winter, made his first start of the season tonight. All in all, it went very well.
The right-hander threw six innings of three-run, five-hit ball. He walked three and struck out two; retiring the final eight batters that he faced.
Ross, who underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in late 2016, had a 7.71 ERA with the Rangers last season while still recovering from the surgery. A lot was made of how solid he looked this spring, and tonight was a good start to what Ross and the Padres are hoping is a successful (and healthy) season.
Jose Pirela recorded two outfield assists tonight to aid Tyson Ross:
The first came in the third inning on a two-run double by Nolan Arenado with the bases loaded. Running from first base, D.J. LaMahieu was seeking to make it a three-run double, but Pirela and SS Freddy Galvis had other plans. The duo teamed up on a perfect relay that nabbed LaMahieu at home.
An inning later, Pirela threw out Trevor Story, who was trying to advance from first-to-third on a single.
The two outfield assists were the most by a Padre since Melvin Upton Jr. recorded two on August 27, 2015.
The Padres became the final team in the majors to win a ballgame. Their record is now 1-4.
What’s on Deck:
The Padres will look for their second consecutive win against the Rockies tomorrow night at 7:10 p.m. PT. RHP Jon Gray will take the hill for Colorado. Countering him for the Padres will be LHP Clayton Richard.
The game will be televised on FOX Sports San Diego.