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Pirela's defense improves dramatically

Padres left fielder says consistency has helped produce results
MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- Few have ever doubted Jose Pirela's status as a big league hitter. He's raked at every level he's played: Majors, Minors and winter ball.

Pirela's defense, however, is another story entirely. In parts of four big league seasons, Pirela has played first base, second base, left field, right field and even a bit of third. Without consistent playing time at any of those spots, Pirela was a liability at all of them.

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SAN DIEGO -- Few have ever doubted Jose Pirela's status as a big league hitter. He's raked at every level he's played: Majors, Minors and winter ball.

Pirela's defense, however, is another story entirely. In parts of four big league seasons, Pirela has played first base, second base, left field, right field and even a bit of third. Without consistent playing time at any of those spots, Pirela was a liability at all of them.

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This season, however, the Padres committed to Pirela in left field. He's made significant strides there -- to the point where his defense has been, at the very least, adequate, if not above average.

"He's a guy I was honestly trying to get out of the game in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings," said Padres manager Andy Green. "He didn't look comfortable in the outfield, wasn't getting good breaks. But he's been as good as any left fielder in the game over the last couple weeks."

That might be hyperbole, but Pirela has absolutely held his own in left field, where he's notched +3 Defensive Runs Saved. It's a small sample size, but he's been on par with Pirates defensive standout Starling Marte this season, in approximately as many innings.

"Shagging during BP has been a real key," Pirela said. "I've pushed myself in that to get reps off the bat, and I think we're seeing the results."

Pirela's flashiest play came Tuesday night when he ranged to the left-field corner to rob the Giants' Pablo Sandoval of a home run, just in front of the short fence.

But more important, Pirela has made routine plays look routine of late. That hasn't always been the case. He credits being entrenched in left field.

"When you're playing multiple positions, you have to move around, and you get less work at all of them," Pirela said. "But when you're at only one position, you can focus on that."

Focus, he has.

"He takes his work incredibly seriously," Green said. "He gets out there every single day and gets after it. You've seen him improve. It's a wonderful thing to see a 27-year-old guy that's out there working his tail off to get better in the outfield. He is, and it's good to see."

Worth noting

Erick Aybar was scheduled to begin a brief rehab stint in the Arizona League on Wednesday night. The Padres shortstop has been out since July 21 with a broken bone in his left foot, and the club is hopeful he'll return Friday when rosters expand.

Clayton Richard will start one game in Saturday's doubleheader against the Dodgers, but the Padres have yet to determine which. They also have yet to announce the other starter, but it won't be Jhoulys Chacin. With Thursday's off-day, Chacin could have moved up to Saturday. But the Padres have chosen to start him in Sunday's finale.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Jose Pirela