Amarista continues surge as Padres take opener

Amarista continues surge as Padres take opener

Amarista continues surge as Padres take opener
PHOENIX -- Seven years ago Monday, all 30 teams had the chance to sign teenage second baseman Alexis Amarista for what had to be pennies on the dollar on international signing day.

Every team passed on an even smaller version of the 5-foot-7, 150-pound infielder back then, and he didn't sign with the Angels until he was almost 18.

Who knew he would turn into this player?

Well, Amarista did.

On Monday night, the infielder went 3-for-5 and finished a triple short of a cycle to pace the Padres to a 6-2 victory over the D-backs in the first game of a three-game series at Chase Field.

San Diego catcher Yasmani Grandal also had a night to remember, hitting his third home run of the season in the seventh inning to push the Padres ahead, 5-1.

The rookie is the first player to hit home runs with his first three Major League hits since Keith McDonald accomplished the feat with St. Louis in 2000.

Together, Amarista and Grandal have energized a team looking to build on a three-game winning streak. Both should also thank Padres starter Clayton Richard for keeping the D-backs in check for 8 2/3 innings.

"[Richard] was smelling the finish line, no doubt about that, and I want him desperately to get it because he works his butt off in-between starts," Padres manager Bud Black said. "He wants to do that. I look at where he is in innings pitched in the National League and he's up there with the big boys."

After Ryan Roberts and Gerardo Parra singled with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Joe Thatcher came on in relief of Richard and struck out Jason Kubel looking to end the game.

Amarista is also living large. He came into Monday's game with six hits in his last 11 at-bats, with a double, three home runs, eight RBI and five runs scored in the previous four games. Including his first inning home run Monday, he's now hit four home runs in his last five games.

Overall, Amarista is hitting .284 for the season.

"It's been really good and I'm having fun," Amarista said. "I'm feeling more confident at the plate and I just have to continue."

Amarista -- acquired from the Angels on May 3 in a three-player deal -- has always been able to hit, at least in the Minor Leagues. He had a .312 batting average with 613 hits in 492 games during six seasons in the Minors. He tallied 35 triples and 117 doubles during that span, and played as many as six different positions along the way.

So far, he's made his mark in the big leagues by proving that a player with a smaller body and big smile can play with the big boys.

One reporter joked with Padres manager Bud Black that Amarista should hit third or fourth in the lineup, considering his hitting prowess.

Black smiled.

Amarista always smiles.

But Amarista did not do it alone Monday. Richard allowed only two runs on eight hits in another fine start. Cameron Maybin notched a pair of hits, including a monstrous 485-foot home run to left center field in the sixth off D-backs starter Trevor Cahill to give the Padres a 2-0 advantage.

"It felt even better just to get Clayton an extra run because he pitched his butt off," Maybin said. "In a park like this, no one- or two-run lead is safe. At the moment, it was a big momentum lift for us."

Amarista's two-run double later in the inning extended the Padres' lead to 4-0. He also hit a single in the third. The infielder led off the ninth inning with a chance to hit the first cycle in club history, but flew out to center field. He grinned all the way to the dugout and stood tall at his locker afterward.

"I've been really concentrating at the plate, looking for hits and I'm getting them," Amarista said. "I couldn't get the cycle, but I'm really happy that we were able to get the win and I had a good night."

Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.