Upton Jr. ready to restart career with Padres
ATLANTA -- Melvin Upton Jr. finally made his way back into a Major League clubhouse on Monday. And even though the surroundings looked eerily familiar, he's on a different team now, looking for drastically different results.
The San Diego Padres recalled Upton Jr. from a Minor League rehab assignment, activating the outfielder in time for the first game of a four-game series against his former team, the Atlanta Braves. Upton Jr., known as B.J. while with the Braves (and the Tampa Bay Rays before that), wasn't in the starting lineup for Monday night's game at Turner Field.
But Padres manager Bud Black says Upton Jr., dealt to the Padres with closer Craig Kimbrel in a trade on April 5, is ready to go.
"You could see him start against left-handed starting pitchers. You could see him being used off the bench in a variety of roles, whether as a pinch-runner or a pinch-hitter," Black said in the dugout before Monday's game. "You could see some starts against right-handed pitching as well."
Upton Jr., the brother of Padres outfielder Justin Upton, struggled as a member of the Braves. Upton Jr., hit only .198/.279/.314 in two seasons and 267 games in Atlanta. That was after hitting .255/.338.430 in his previous six years in Tampa Bay.
The Padres took on the final three years of Upton Jr.'s $75 million contract, worth about $46 million, in the trade to get Kimbrel, one of the game's elite closers.
"He's had a lot of success in the Majors. I think, at 30 years old, I think those numbers could still be in there," Black said. "Again, this guy has power … speed. He runs the outfield well. He's got to recapture that form. There's no doubt about that."
Upton Jr. injured his left foot in Spring Training and was diagnosed with sesamoiditis, an inflammation in the bone behind the ball of the foot. He hit .280 in 13 games with one home run and six RBIs for Triple-A El Paso.
He learned about a week ago that his first chance to get back in the game would be in Atlanta.
"I don't know … I got a fresh start," Upton Jr. said. "The past is the past. I'm not going to change it. I'm fortunate to have a fresh start."
This won't be an easy road to travel for Upton Jr.. He joins a crowded outfield that will get even more jammed when Wil Myers returns from his Minor League rehab assignment. Myers is expected to rejoin the team soon, perhaps as early as later this week.
"The only thing I can tell him is, 'Hey, play your game, play hard, be a good Padre," Black said. "In the short term, do what you can do to help us win. Whether it's you start a game or come off the bench.'