A longshot to make any major league roster at one point in his career, Mike Baxter appears to be making up for lost time since joining the New York Mets.
He's also making the San Diego Padres regret letting him go.
Baxter tries to continue his solid play and lead the Mets to back-to-back wins as their series continues Saturday with the Padres.
Originally a fourth-round pick in the amateur draft by the Padres in 2005, Baxter steadily worked his way up the team's system until his major league debut in 2010 and appeared in nine games. The outfielder, though, tore ligaments in his thumb late in spring training last year and was placed on waivers in July, and the Mets claimed him the same day.
''He's a solid, fundamentally sound player. I think our minor league people taught him well,'' Padres manager Bud Black said of Baxter. ''He's a bright kid, our minor league guys really liked him. The cool thing is when a guy comes back and plays in his hometown.''
He appeared primarily as a defensive replacement in 22 games in 2011, getting 34 at-bats and had started this year doing the same. Recently, though, Baxter has found a groove at the plate, and with it, increased playing time.
After making a leaping catch at the left-field wall to start an inning-ending double play in the first, Baxter had a go-ahead RBI double in the third to spark the Mets to a 6-1 victory Friday night. The native of Queens, N.Y., has hit safely in his last six starts, going 8 for 24 with three doubles and a triple.
''He came to camp to make the club,'' Mets manager Terry Collins said. ''Now he made the club. He's pretty tough to get out of the lineup right now.''
Mets scheduled starter Johan Santana (1-2, 3.24 ERA) is hoping for similar strong defensive support as he tries to avoid going winless for a fourth straight start. The left-hander has not had a decision in the previous three, yielding nine runs in 20 innings in that span.
Santana failed to protect a two-run lead in the seventh inning Monday at Pittsburgh, leaving after giving up four runs and eight hits in 6 1-3 innings of New York's 5-4 defeat. In his previous two starts, Santana watched the Mets bullpen implode in eventual losses.
He is 2-3 with a 2.47 ERA in seven lifetime starts against the Padres.
San Diego's offense, however, was held down after a season high in runs in Friday's 11-5 win. The Padres (17-30) fell to 1-10 on the road when scoring three or fewer runs and 8-24 overall.
Clayton Richard (2-5, 4.63) knows all about that lack of run support - the Padres have backed him with three or fewer runs in six of his nine starts - as he seeks a third consecutive solid start and a second straight win. The left-hander was in line for a victory Monday at St. Louis, where he allowed two runs in 7 1-3 innings, but Andrew Cashner was unable to hold the lead in a 4-3 defeat.
Richard has allowed two runs in each of his last two starts after doing so twice in his first seven, but he has struggled on the road this year - going 0-3 with a 6.68 ERA in five starts. Richard did not get a decision in his only start against the Mets in 2010, limiting them to one run in seven innings.
Mets third baseman David Wright, whose average dipped to .397 after going 0 for 3 with a walk Friday, is 3 for 8 lifetime against Richard.