Win in St. Louis opens crucial trip for Padres

Home run notes on Ross, updates on Solarte, Shields, Alonso, Rea

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

We've said it before this season, but the road trip the Padres launched Thursday with a 5-3, 11-inning win is crucially important.

Really.

Three straight losses at home - capped by back-to-back shutouts - to conclude a five-game homestand dropped the Padres to six games below .500 for the first time this season.

Even with Thursday night's win, the Padres are 7 1/2 games off the pace in the National League West and 5 1Ž2 games off the pace for the second wildcard berth. As important as the distance is the fact that there are six teams between the Padres and the second wildcard team.

We could be talking now or never as the Padres head into perhaps their roughest road trip of the season - a trip that takes them to St. Louis (for four games), Pittsburgh and Texas . . . and to the All-Star break. Thursday marked the official midpoint of the season. Even by winning the opener at St. Louis, the Padres are only four games ahead of where they were last year at this time.

The expectations were higher. They still are. "We can still do it," right-handed pitcher James Shields said Wednesday afternoon after the Padres were out-scored 12-0 and out-hit 16-4 in the two-game sweep by the Mariners at Petco Park.

But they cannot afford to lose any more ground going into the All-Star break - which means winning games against three teams that are a combined 38 games over .500.

Can it happen? Well, anything can happen. And if it does, the Padres will have to play their best ball of the season.

This trip is doubly important because after the All-Star break there will be only 14 games to the go/no-go trading deadline of July 31. At the moment, the Padres are looking more like sellers than buyers.

"We have work to do and there are no breaks," interim Padres manager Pat Murphy said Wednesday afternoon as the Padres prepared to depart San Diego for higher temperatures and pressure.

"The next 10 games can make the season. I refuse to say it will break the season. There are things that have to change. Guys are letting the outside expectations affect them. We have to develop a better offensive approach and stick to it."

 From the scorecard

-- Right-hander Tyson Ross departed Thursday night's start in St. Louis with two home run streaks working. Ross the batter has now hit a home run in one straight game. Ross the pitcher hasn't allowed a homer in 12 consecutive starts covering 78 innings. First, Ross the hitter: His fifth-inning home run off Cardinals' left-hander Tim Cooney came on the 121st at-bat of his career and was the first home run by a Padres' pitcher since Ian Kennedy connected against the Marlins since May 8, 2014, at Petco Park. It was the first road homer by a Padres pitcher since Andrew Cashner homered at Arizona on July 27, 2013. Ross was only the fourth pitcher in Padres' history to hit an opposite-field homer and the first since Andy Benes connected on Sept. 3, 1989. Now, Ross the pitcher: In terms of games, his 12-start streak without allowing a homer is tied for the third-longest in Padres history. Only Dave Roberts (15 straight games, 1971) and Randy Jones (12 straight games in 1978) had longer homerless streaks in terms of games. In terms of innings, Ross's 78 straight innings without allowing a homer is the sixth-longest in Padres history by a starting pitcher with the longest run being Jones 107 1/3-inning run in 1978.

-- Infielder Yangervis Solarte, who has made three straight starts at third for the injured Will Middlebrooks, hit a solo home run Thursday night in St. Louis. Solarte had the Padres only hit Tuesday night and one of three the Padres had Wednesday night. Both were doubles. Solarte has hit safely in five of his last six games, going 8-for-15 with four doubles a homer and two multi-hit games.

-- Right-hander James Shields has been the losing pitcher in each of his last three starts after opening the season with a 7-0 record. Over those three starts, Shields has a 7.02 earned run average, allowing 13 runs on 15 hits and 10 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings. Shields ERA has climbed from 3.59 to 4.14 during his three-game losing streak. Shields threw 117 pitches in 6 2/3 innings Wednesday, the most by a Padres pitcher since RHP Odrisamer Despaigne threw 123 last July 20.

-- First baseman Yonder Alonso also had one of the Padres three hits Wednesday afternoon and is hitting .300 (15-for-50) with a .386 on-base percentage over his last 15 games. Alonso is hitting .289 (28-for-97) with a .373 OBP since returning from the disabled list on June 2.

-- Right-handed pitcher Colin Rea was promoted from Double-A San Antonio to Triple-A El Paso Wednesday. Rea, who has been named to the Team USA in the Futures Game, was 3-2 with a Texas League-leading 1.08 earned run average in 12 starts.