Upton Jr. flies over wall to rob Pirates' Joyce

Upton Jr. flies over wall to rob Pirates' Joyce

SAN DIEGO -- During Spring Training, Padres manager Andy Green claimed, on several occasions, that Melvin Upton Jr. had all the tools necessary to win a Gold Glove Award in his first season as a left fielder.

Upton, a converted center fielder, made an early case for that hardware in the ninth inning of Wednesday's 8-2 victory over the Pirates, robbing Matt Joyce of a home run with a leaping catch over the left-field fence.

All Joyce could do afterward was tip his cap.

"He times his leap, and he was up over the fence, pretty obviously," said Green. "Any time the opposing hitter takes his hat off and tips it to you, it's pretty special."

Said fellow outfielder Matt Kemp: "He's one of the best athletes on the team, so those kind of plays don't surprise me. He's a center fielder playing left field. He makes those look easy. It was an unbelievable catch."

Upton is off to a solid start to the season at the plate, with an .876 OPS. But to him, the defense is just as important.

"It doesn't always have to be with the bat, man," Upton said. "It can be with the glove, too. I think I've played long enough to know that. It's just whatever I can do each and every day to help this team win. Whatever it is."

Later in the frame, Upton made another nice play, ranging to his right to track down a liner off the bat of Cole Figueroa.

In the context of the final score, the two plays didn't have much impact on the outcome. But with reliever Luis Perdomo in a jam, Upton's defense could prove very valuable, as Green didn't have to call on Fernando Rodney.

"Those hits Upton took away in the last inning, that keeps our closer off of the mound," Green said. "That's a big deal. Otherwise we get Rodney into the game again, and that's not what we want to do in that situation."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.