Jankowski embracing opportunity in CF

Padres turn to outfielder after dealing Upton Jr. to Blue Jays

Jankowski embracing opportunity in CF

TORONTO -- Not too long ago, Travis Jankowski was the third center fielder on the Padres' roster, playing only sparingly -- and typically as a defensive replacement.

When Jon Jay went down with a broken right forearm, Jankowski saw his playing time increase. Now, having dealt Melvin Upton Jr. to Toronto, the Padres are handing the keys to Jankowski in center, at least for the foreseeable future.

Padres trade Upton Jr. to Blue Jays for prospect

"It's an opportunity," Jankowski said before the Padres played the Blue Jays on Tuesday night. "If I go out there and don't play to my potential and continue to be a leadoff hitter and a good center fielder, this opportunity could be taken from me at any moment. ... I'm going to really make the most of it."

For now, Jankowski is the only center fielder on the Padres' active roster. It remains unclear who will take Upton's place on the 25-man squad, and the Padres played a man short on Tuesday.

In parts of 74 games entering Tuesday, Jankowski was batting .231/.352/.313 with a homer and 16 stolen bases in 134 at-bats. It appears he'll be getting the at-bats in bunches going forward.

"It's helped me with my comfort level," Jankowski said of his increased playing time in recent weeks. "I'm a lot more comfortable and [confident], too. It helped me build my confidence. Just coming to the field knowing you're going to play gives you a mental edge."

To be sure, the Padres are going to miss Upton's presence in the lineup. He's been arguably the Padres' most exciting player this season while posting gaudy numbers at the plate, on the bases and in the field.

But his absence clears space for Jankowski, as well as Alex Dickerson -- who has homered in each of the past two games while Upton sat because of the looming trade.

Dickerson's monster two-run jack

"We love everything Melvin did for us -- the way he played, how he defended the field, how he swung the bat," Padres manager Andy Green said. "But when we're looking at what we're going to do in the future, we want to give these guys a real look."

Jankowski is eager to capitalize on that "look." But that doesn't mean he's happy to see Upton switch dugouts.

"It's tough, man," Jankowski said. "He helped me from Day One, since my callup last year. He was always there for me to help me out. Losing him is tough for not only me, but the team as well. He's not only a great clubhouse guy, but a great player. I'm going to take that as some big shoes to fill."

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.