Wallace is becoming an elite pinch-hitter

April 30th, 2016

LOS ANGELES -- By nature, baseball players are a routine-oriented bunch. But there's almost nothing routine about the job Brett Wallace fills as the Padres' primary offensive weapon off the bench.

Nonetheless, Wallace -- as is the case with most good pinch-hitters -- has found a rhythm in a role that makes it almost impossible to do so.

"I look at it like every day, I'm going to pinch-hit, whether I do or I don't," Wallace said. "I'm going to get an at-bat, and when I do. It's going to be a situation where I'm going to have an impact on the game. I look at that as a positive."

When the Padres are in the field during the third inning, Wallace goes back into the clubhouse area, where he stretches and rides a stationary bike to get loose. In the fourth inning, he'll hit off a tee. Then in the fifth, he'll take soft toss.

"From then on, I'm ready to go, in my mind," Wallace said. "Then it's all about tracking the game, where's the pitcher at? Who's up this inning?"

It wouldn't be a stretch to say Wallace is more comfortable as a pinch-hitter than in any other role. Entering Friday's game against Los Angeles, Wallace has made 23 plate appearances this season in which he wasn't a pinch-hitter. He's doubled once, he's walked three times and he's been hit by two pitches. That's the extent of it.

But as a pinch-hitter, Wallace is 3-for-5 with a pair of walks.

Obviously, the sample sizes are incredibly small, but there's more than just this year's data to back the notion that Wallace can pinch-hit with the best of 'em.

He went 15-for-43 in a pinch last season, with a 1.138 OPS -- the second highest among players with at least 20 at-bats. Wallace also launched four pinch-hit dingers in 2015, the most in baseball.

"You have to embrace the role," said Padres manager Andy Green. "He's embraced the role and sees that as his primary job. ... He's one of the better pinch-hitters in the game, and he's showing it right now."

By now, Wallace has been used as a pinch-hitter enough to understand when his name might be called on a given night.

"The more I do it, you get a feel for the game and the manager and the pitchers that are on the mound," Wallace said. "There's a lot that goes into it, but I feel pretty comfortable looking at the game and knowing when I might have to be ready."