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With better defense, Margot eyes future Gold Glove

MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- As he tore through the Minor Leagues, Manuel Margot always projected as an elite big league defender. In the first half of his first season, however, he didn't get the chance to show it.

Nagged by a calf injury that sidelined him for a month, Margot rated as league average in center field. In his eyes, he's much better than that. And he's started to prove it.

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SAN DIEGO -- As he tore through the Minor Leagues, Manuel Margot always projected as an elite big league defender. In the first half of his first season, however, he didn't get the chance to show it.

Nagged by a calf injury that sidelined him for a month, Margot rated as league average in center field. In his eyes, he's much better than that. And he's started to prove it.

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These days, the 22-year-old rookie is tracking down all fly balls in both gaps. Margot has partnered his elite range with a much-improved first step. Defensive metrics can be tricky in small samples. But he's increased his Defensive Runs Saved to +3 in the second half, after an even-par showing in the first.

Now, Margot has set some lofty goals for himself in the future.

"I want to become one of the best center fielders out there," Margot said through an interpreter. "My goal is winning a Gold Glove. I know there's a lot of competition, and you only get a number of years up here at this level. But I want to be the best. I want to win that Gold Glove."

It's too late for Margot to accomplish that goal in 2017. He missed too much time in the first half, and his calf injury didn't help his middling performance.

Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton and Atlanta's Ender Inciarte will likely compete for the award this season. Margot's goal is one in the future.

"He could do it," manager Andy Green said. "For him, it's about seeing more baseballs. ... The Gold Glove is going to have to be worked for. He's not ready to win it now -- but he can win it."

Video: SD@LAD: Margot leaps for a nice grab on the track

The flashiest play since Margot's resurgence came Saturday in Los Angeles. He ranged to the wall and collided with it, robbing Chase Utley of extra bases.

More important, Margot has made significant strides in making flashy plays look routine. He's begun to feel more accustomed to the big league ballparks in which he's playing. And, with his right calf back to full strength, he's getting a much better first step.

"When you're not physically 100 percent, it's a bit harder for you to work at that stuff, for you to get better," Margot said. "But once you are, anything that happens is a result of how hard you work."

Added Green: "His breaks are better. He's caught some balls at the wall that, for a brief period of time, were a struggle for him. He's putting in good work out there. He feels good physically, and he's playing great."

Worth noting

• The "Austin Hedges Saxy Section" debuts Friday night at Petco Park. Fans buying Saxy Section tickets in left field will receive an inflatable saxophone and Padres-themed sunglasses. Hedges has used George Michael's "Careless Whisper" as his walk-up song for most of the season.

"It's an honor, really, to have the Padres put my name behind something that could bring people to the game," said Hedges, who, coincidentally, is celebrating his 25th birthday on Friday as well.

• The Padres recalled left-hander Buddy Baumann before Thursday's game, placing outfielder Matt Szczur on the family leave list. The Padres will carry three primary outfielders until Szczur rejoins the club, likely next week in St. Louis. Infielders Cory Spangenberg and Allen Cordoba will serve as backup outfielders, if necessary.

Miguel Diaz will start for Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore this weekend. He's slated to pitch three or four innings, as he continues his recovery from a right forearm strain that has sidelined him since June.

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

San Diego Padres, Manuel Margot