PEORIA, Ariz. -- On the day the Padres officially parted ways with veteran infielder Jorge Cantu last June, the team recalled infielder Jesus Guzman from Triple-A Tucson to take Cantu's spot on the active roster.
The roster move was largely an unheralded one for a team that was 10 games under .500 (30-40) and in last place in the National League West, even for a player like Guzman, who had blistered the pitching in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League to the tune of a .332 average.
In other words, the bar was set low for Guzman, who was not only three days past his 27th birthday but had all of 20 at-bats at the Major League level during a professional career that started in 2001.
But Guzman had two hits that first game against the Twins. Three days later at Fenway Park, he had two more hits, including a triple. When he played, he hit. And for a team starved for offense, Guzman's bat kept earning him playing time.
"When we came into Spring Training last year, the buzz was that he could really, really hit," said Padres catcher Nick Hundley. "From the first day of spring he looked like he was in midseason form. So I don't think it was a huge surprise he did well.
"But to do that your first year in the big leagues ... consistently hitting balls hard like that, he could have easily hit .350."
When the dust finally settled on the Padres' 71-91 season, Guzman had a .312 batting average, 13th best among all NL players from June 16 on. He flourished with runners in scoring position (.431) but also with runners in scoring position and two outs (.444), in addition to 23 multihit games.
Maybe the most impressive statistic from Guzman's 76-game run with the Padres was his .346 average at spacious Petco Park, where batting averages go to die. Guzman, in a small sample size, tamed Yellowstone West, something not easily attained by hitters of all shapes, sizes and pedigree.
The success at the Major League level was a long time in coming for Guzman, who signed a contract with the Mariners in 2001 at the age of 16. He played eight successive seasons in the Minor Leagues before getting in 12 games with the Giants in 2009.
"When I was in San Francisco, they didn't give me the chance to play and didn't believe in me," Guzman said. "When I came to the Padres, they gave me an opportunity to play, to wear this uniform. That was very important for me."
The experience in San Diego validated what Guzman knew about himself all along -- that he could hit at this level. A career .305 hitter in the Minor Leagues, Guzman flourished at about every stop.
"I never gave up, I never put my head down and I always worked hard," Guzman said. "I had four good years from 2007-10 and never got called up. But to me, it didn't matter. I always told myself that next year is another year and that I've got to keep working hard."
Guzman then smiled.
"If you work hard in the Minor Leagues and never put your head down, sometimes you'll get a chance," he said.
A shortstop when he first signed with Seattle, Guzman ended up at third base and later first base with the Padres after Anthony Rizzo struggled last season. He has played some outfield and will get that chance this spring and during the regular season as manager Bud Black looks to get his bat into the lineup.
His bat is his unmistakable calling card.
"You look at his swing, what he does every day in the batting cage, how he goes about his work, and you can make a pretty strong case that this guy can hit in the Major Leagues," Black said. "I think he can hit. We'll see, but I feel pretty good when he gets in the batter's box what's going to happen."
That same good feeling essentially washed over Guzman time and time again last summer, especially as he found his name in the lineup card nearly every day.
"When you've got confidence, when the coaches believe in you ... it's different," Guzman said. "Because you know you're going to be in the lineup the next day. Even if you don't do anything that one day, you know you're going to get a chance to play tomorrow."