SAN DIEGO — Before Manny Machado picked San Diego, before Fernando Tatis Jr. earned his callup, before general manager A.J. Preller’s spending spree turned up a rotation full of aces, before the Padres were good and fun and wore brown — Eric Hosmer signed on the dotted line.
In retrospect, that moment serves as something of a turning point for this once-forlorn franchise. But on that late-February afternoon in 2018, could Hosmer have truly envisioned this?
“Definitely not to this extreme,” Hosmer said last week. “If you were to tell me Manny would’ve been here a year after me, then followed by [Blake] Snell and [Yu] Darvish — and I’d heard a lot about Fernando obviously, but I didn’t realize how good he actually was until I got here and got to see him on a day-to-day basis.
“I definitely had an idea about this team being good, having a lot of talent. But this amount of talent on one team is pretty special. You certainly didn’t expect this.”
Hosmer sure seems determined to make the most of it. Two games into the 2021 season, the Padres are 2-0, and he’s the one doing the heavy lifting. For the second consecutive game, Hosmer homered and had three hits as the Padres held off the D-backs, 4-2, at Petco Park on Friday night.
Hosmer launched a two-run home run to right field in the third, then tacked on an insurance run with a two-out RBI single in the seventh. He’s made four trips to the plate this season with runners in scoring position, and he has hits in all four.
“It starts with: Eric wants to be up there in those moments,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “He does a good job of being aggressive on the pitches that he can get the barrel to.”
Hosmer’s 13 total bases through the team’s first two games of the season are the most in franchise history. He’s also the first Padres player to begin a season by recording three hits in each of the team’s first two games.
So while Machado and Tatis have started the season on the chilly side — they’ve combined to go 1-for-15, and Tatis has committed three errors — the Padres have made up for it with more than enough production from Hosmer, their original nine-figure signing.
After a nervy win on Opening Day — in which Tingler admitted to sticking with Darvish too long, then used all four of his primary bullpen weapons — San Diego played Friday’s game like it knew it had 160 left. The National League West won’t be won on opening weekend. So, Blake Snell got an early hook after 4 2/3 innings in his Padres debut, and Tingler reshuffled his bullpen to give some of his key arms an early rest.
Snell, of course, infamously received an early hook in his last start as well — pitching Game 6 of the World Series for the Rays against the Dodgers. He was cruising on Friday night, having punched out eight across 4 2/3 scoreless innings. But the circumstances — as Snell was quick to point out — were different. The Padres had him on a first-start pitch limit of 85, and he’d already exceeded that count by one.
“I’m not here to throw nine innings in the first game that I pitch,” Snell said. “It doesn’t matter to me. No one remembers your first couple months of a season. They remember how you finish and what you do in the postseason. … We’re going to build this the right way, and we’ll start to get some innings and some depth. Then we can have some fun.”
After Snell’s removal, the D-backs got two runs back in the seventh when Ketel Marte homered off right-hander Craig Stammen. But Hosmer answered with his two-out RBI knock in the bottom of the frame.
“He loves those opportunities and thrives on them,” Tingler said. “He’s been as successful as anybody in those situations.”
After his big Opening Day performance, Hosmer set the bar high for the Padres’ offense, saying he felt it should be the best in MLB in 2021. When he arrived in San Diego, it was arguably the worst. What a difference a few years make.
But Hosmer has never been one for “on-paper” accomplishments. The Padres have built an excellent roster, sure. In Hosmer’s eyes, that doesn’t mean anything.
“We have a special group here,” Hosmer said. “We have a lot of talent. Now, it’s time to put that talent to work.”
Through two games, Hosmer is walking the walk.