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Padres sit atop NL West after wild win at Arizona

@AJCassavell
April 12, 2019

PHOENIX -- It’s probably too early to get wrapped up in the National League West standings. Scratch that -- it’s definitely too early. But with a topsy-turvy 7-6 victory on Thursday -- a game in which the Padres lost a five-run lead to the D-backs and then won it with

PHOENIX -- It’s probably too early to get wrapped up in the National League West standings. Scratch that -- it’s definitely too early.

But with a topsy-turvy 7-6 victory on Thursday -- a game in which the Padres lost a five-run lead to the D-backs and then won it with an eighth-inning homer from defensive replacement Manuel Margot -- San Diego found itself alone atop the division. That’s noteworthy because, well, it’s been a while.

In the past eight seasons, the Padres have spent one day in sole possession of first place -- on Opening Night in 2014. Otherwise, it has been since April 5, 2011. What, exactly, does it mean to hold a division lead after 14 games?

“Nothing,” said Padres manager Andy Green. “Nothing at all.”

That’s a perfectly fair response, with 148 more games still to be played.

But not everyone in the San Diego clubhouse was so eager to downplay the standings. Catcher Austin Hedges demolished a 449-foot, three-run homer in the sixth. He’s the longest-tenured Padre, and Friday will mark the first time he’ll arrive at the ballpark in sole possession of first place.

“It’s awesome,” Hedges said. “We’re going to hold onto that. We’re going to be pumped about it. Now, people are going to be coming for us. They know we’re real. We’re ready to rise to the occasion.”

Just how sustainable is the Padres’ early success? In that regard, Thursday’s game offered a mixed-bag of answers.

Pedro Avila was solid in his big league debut, working 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball after he escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first. Offensively, Hedges, Margot and Franmil Reyes went deep, and Fernando Tatis Jr. collected two hits.

But San Diego’s beleaguered bullpen squandered a 6-1 lead before Margot’s go-ahead shot. Only three teams in the Majors have asked for more innings from their relief corps. With closer Kirby Yates unavailable, Trey Wingenter was called upon to record his first career save. He caught Nick Ahmed looking, leaving the tying and winning runs aboard.

“That was huge,” Hedges said.

The moment Hedges squeezed his mitt on Wingenter’s 98-mph fastball, he leapt from his crouch and pumped his fist. The Padres were back atop the NL West. How long they’ll stay there remains to be seen.

Young starters continue to impress
Another young starter made his big league debut for the Padres on Thursday night. Another young starter rose to the occasion.

Avila is merely the latest in a long line of San Diego pitchers to earn his big league debut well ahead of schedule. Already this season, Nick Margevicius and Chris Paddack have impressed. None of those three had reached Double-A until the second half of last season.

“That’s what we breed here, man,” Hedges said. “That’s the culture that we’re building. It’s no surprise. It’s what we expect of our guys now. He proved why we expect it.”

Avila leaned heavily on his offspeed stuff -- particularly his changeup -- on Thursday night. Only 25 of his 85 pitches were fastballs. He struck out five over 5 1/3 while allowing four hits and a run.

That run came in the top of the first inning. Avila proceeded to load the bases in the frame, too, but after a visit from pitching coach Darren Balsley, he ended the threat with a strikeout and a popup. From there, he was mostly unchallenged.

“A great experience,” Avila said. “I’m just really proud in myself for being able to turn this dream into a reality and be a part of this … young group of pitchers we have.”

Damage from the bench
With the Padres ahead by five, Green called for Margot to replace Reyes in the sixth inning. Margot manned center field, with Wil Myers moving to left.

Evidently, even the Padres’ defensive replacements rake. San Diego substitutes are hitting an absurd .289/.372/.684 with a Major League-leading four homers this season. That includes Margot’s blast off Archie Bradley with two outs and the bases empty in the eighth.

“You let a five-run lead slip away, and then Manny Margot, with a big swing, puts us back up,” Green said. “Another guy coming off the bench doing huge things for us.

“Just a great win.”

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