MLB hitting wizard has been even better than advertised since trade

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Padres knew they were getting the best pure hitter in the game.

They knew they were getting a steal from the Miami Marlins who are paying virtually his entire contract.

They knew they were getting one of the most genuine, likable players in the game.

But nearly one month since they acquired Luis Arráez, don’t be surprised if the Padres walk up and personally thank each and every one of the Marlins for sending him their way when they meet Monday afternoon.

Arráez, who produced two more hits and made a sensational diving stop that stalled the New York Yankees’ offense before it got started Sunday, has been a sparkplug for the Padres offense since his arrival, winning 5-2 against the Yankees in front of a sellout crowd of 45,371 at Petco Park.

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Arráez is hitting .391 in 20 games with the Padres and teammates and opponents are raving about the impact he has made.

“I love the intensity he brings with his at-bats,’ Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Obviously, just about as good as it gets from the bat to ball standpoint. But I just love the intensity with how he plays the game.’’

The Yankees had walloped the Padres the first two games of the series, 12-1, with their starters pitching 12 shutout innings and yielding only six hits, while tormenting the Padres’ pitchers with five home runs.

Just when it looked like the Yankees, with the most powerful offense in the game, were getting started when Aaron Judge lined a 115.8-mph ball off the left field wall and then Alex Verdugo hit a liner that appeared headed towards the right-field corner.


Arráez, playing first base, dove to his left, snared it to end the rally, the Yankees’ momentum, and perhaps even turned around the game.

“That play was huge,’ Padres manager Mike Shildt said. “When that happened, I thought, “OK, things may be going our way today.’ ‘’

When the game ended, there was Arráez, batting leadoff, producing two more hits and an RBI. He has 23 multi-hit games this season while striking out a league-low 14 times.

“It’s incredible what he has done for us,’ Padres All-Star third baseman Manny Machado said Sunday. “We all knew how good he was, winning two batting titles, but he’s even better. It’s just so impressive what he’s doing. Every single time.

“I mean, he puts the pressure on a pitcher immediately. It takes a toll on a pitcher when the first batter he faces is him, seeing him work the count, getting a hit, starting a rally. He can put a pitcher on the ropes immediately. He brings such a toughness to the lineup.

“He’s just so dangerous. He’s a difference-maker and a threat to win any game by himself.’’

Arráez, already being compared to Padres eight-time batting champion Tony Gwynn, says it’s been an honor being able to talk about Gwynn’s prowess with Gwynn’s son, Tony Jr., a broadcaster with the Padres.

Gwynn was a career .338 hitter, and Arráez, winning back-to-back batting titles with the Minnesota Twins and Miami Marlins, has almost identical stats after 589 career games. He is hitting .327 in his career, nearly 90 points above the .240 league average.

“I know everyone loves home runs, and slug, and all of that stuff,’ Arráez tells USA TODAY Sports. “But I love to hit. I love to get on base. That’s what I try to do every at-bat.

“Oh, and I hate striking out.’

Arráez has struck out only 179 times in 2,425 plate appearances.

Slugger Joey Gallo struck out 213 times alone in 2021.

“The guy is such a spark for us, he’s the closest thing we’ve ever seen to Tony Gwynn,’ Padres right fielder Fernando Tatis said. “He’s one of the best hitters I’ve ever seen play the game of baseball. You watch his steady work ethic. His daily routine. It’s just so impressive to be close to him and learn what he’s all about.

“His type of energy over here is contagious. He motivates you. We’re all feeding off him.’

Arráez, who’s hitting .335 overall this season, can make history if he wins another batting title. No player has ever won three consecutive batting titles with three different teams.

He trails only Dodgers DH Shohei Ohtani (.336) in the National League batting race.

“I’d love to win the batting title every year,’ Arráez says, “but what I really want is to win a World Series. That would mean everything to me. That would be the ultimate season.’’

Really, just watching his preparation, his approach at the plate, the Padres say, makes them a better team. They’re intently studying his actions, trying to duplicate his bat-to-ball skills. Certainly, it has had an impact on the entire lineup. They’ve scored six or more runs in seven games since Arráez’s arrival.

“He just brings in so much joy and excitement to the team,’ Machado said, “and he brings in a lot of new ideas, which has been awesome.

“What he does you don’t see enough in this game. Seeing him win two batting titles is cool, but to see it first-hand is completely different. He knows the game. He knows what they’re going to do to him. And he sprays the ball everywhere.

“He’s just what we needed.’

Arráez showcased his skills on the Padres’ last road trip, hitting .545. He produced a career-high eight consecutive multi-hit games, and has seven three-hit games this season.

“He’s got this high baseball IQ, with great focus, a great approach, and great physical talent,’ Shildt said. “It’s the perfect combination.’

If it was only as easy as Arráez makes it look. There are more strikeouts than hits in baseball. Teams resort to swinging for the fences because they can’t string together hits.

“I mean, it’s hard to hit the ball, really hard,’ Arráez says. “There are a lot of nasty pitchers. That’s why I don’t focus on homers. I’ll let the other guys hit homers. I just want to get on base, which is important to help my team win. There are so many nasty pitchers, you’ve got to try to do everything you can. And for me, that’s getting on base.

“That’s what I do best, take walks, get hits, whatever it takes.’

Arráez really has no contemporaries but there’s no one he enjoys watching more than Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman. Freeman is a career .301 hitter, a three-time Silver Slugger winner, who also happens to have 326 home runs.

Arráez has 25 career homers.

“He’s a big guy [6-foot-5, 220 pounds], he just tries to hit up the middle, and he homers, too,’ said Arráez, 5-10, 175 pounds. “If I got big like him, I think I’ve got homers like him. But he just wants to hit.

“I love watching him.’

Arráez religiously studies tape on opposing pitchers, but says he stays away from scouting reports (“I don’t trust them.’) He wants to see their arsenal for himself. And if it’s a pitcher he has never seen, well, he’ll take a few pitches to get comfortable.

“I just want to follow my plan, do my thing, and let’s see where it takes us at the end of the season. If I get five hits, I want to come back tomorrow and get five hits again.’

Arráez, who has been used as the DH with the Padres more than he has played the field, would prefer playing every day at second base. He wants to be in the heart of the action. And now that second baseman Xander Bogaerts is out at least two months with a broken shoulder, there is more playing time to be had in the field.

“I don’t like DH,’ he said. “I fall asleep when I’m DHing. I need to move around. I want to play defense. Sometimes, I don’t want to play first, but I know they need me there. I love second base, everyone knows that.

“But most of all, I love to hit.’

Says Machado: “Believe me, that’s where we love watching him too. Right there in that batter’s box.’

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