Upton steps up as leader with second walk-off

Padres left fielder continues to impress with production

Upton steps up as leader with second walk-off

SAN DIEGO -- When manager Andy Green informed Melvin Upton Jr. that he'd won the starting left-field job during Spring Training, he made a point to let Upton know it wasn't necessarily his for keeps. If he wanted continued playing time, Upton first needed to produce.

He's produced, all right -- and then some.

Upton -- who has been arguably the Padres most productive player over the first quarter of the season -- capped a wild night at Petco Park Friday with a game-ending two-run homer off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in a 7-6 win. It was Upton's second walk-off dinger of the season, making him the first Padre with two such homers in a season since Scott Hairston in 2007.

In short, Upton doesn't look much like a player who had to earn his place in the lineup during Spring Training. No, he looks more like the player who made a name for himself as one of the game's better all-around talents during his time -- as B.J. -- in Tampa Bay.

"I just come to play the game," Upton said following Friday's victory. "I'm always up for a challenge. If you're not, you probably shouldn't be playing this game. I just go out and be myself, man. And that's it."

Count Green among those who have been impressed, and perhaps pleasantly surprised, with Upton's output this season.

"I obviously started the year hitting him in the eight-hole, so I'm not very smart," Green quipped. "He's proven that he belongs higher up in the order, and he belongs in big at-bat situations."

Yet another of those big at-bat situations found Upton on Friday, and he capitalized. In three prior plate appearances against Jansen, Upton had three strikeouts. Not this time.

Upton fell into a two-strike count on a pair of Jansen cutters, before the hefty Dodgers right-hander left one over the heart of the plate. Upton launched it toward "the Beach" section of the stands in right-center field.

Upton Jr.'s walk-off homer

"It's big out there," Upton said. "I've hit a number of balls out there this year, and they don't go. I knew I hit it pretty good. I just didn't know if it was going. ... He's a good closer, man, he's one of the best in the game. I just got a pitch I could handle."

Earlier this season, Upton snapped another Padres four-game skid in similar fashion, with a walk-off shot against Arizona in the bottom of the 14th.

He's also leading the club with a .346 on-base percentage. And, according to Fangraphs, his +7 Defensive Runs Saved are the best for any left fielder in the Majors.

"I don't know what else he needs to do for people to start noticing what he's been doing out there," Green said. "He's been outstanding. He's played Gold Glove-caliber defense, and he's got huge hits repetitively."

Padres first baseman Wil Myers -- who has preceded both walk-off dingers with bloop singles into no-doubles defenses -- had nothing but praise for Upton.

"He's been great, man, and he's been really good of late. He's one of our guys we look to. He's a leader on the team."

Upton's status as "leader" was reiterated by Green, who noted just how much Upton has already proved with his renaissance season.

"Nothing has been handed to him this year," Green said. "He's been a leader in every sense of the word."

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