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Fernando Tatis Jr. is already flashing his platinum leather for the San Diego Padres

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Fernando Tatis Jr. made a sensational running, leaping catch in right field with a runner on second base, threw the ball back in, slapped the platinum patch on his glove and flashed his golden smile.

El Niño has stormed back for the San Diego Padres.

After playing his first three seasons with flair and swagger, his career was buffeted by injuries and an 80-game PED suspension that cost him all of the 2022 season and the first 20 games of 2023. But he was so impressive in moving from shortstop to right field last year that he won both the Gold Glove Award and the NL Platinum Glove Award, the latter voted on by fans to honor the league's best defensive player.

Last week in Seoul, where the Padres and Dodgers played a two-game series, Tatis was in the opening day lineup for the first time since 2021. He'll no doubt get a lively reception on Thursday when the Padres play their home opener against the San Francisco Giants and manager Bob Melvin, who was San Diego's skipper the last two years.

The high-priced Padres flopped last year, but Tatis shined once he finished serving the final 20 games of the 80-game PED suspension he was hit with in August 2022. He was an All-Star at shortstop in 2021 but was moved to right field when he returned, ostensibly to keep him healthy. He injured his left shoulder twice during the 2021 season and then broke his left wrist in a motorcycle accident that December while at home in the Dominican Republic. Both injuries ultimately required surgery.

“I was open to it and just really looking forward to it,” Tatis said about the move to right field. "I worked my (rear) off and it totally paid off. I was really happy with the outcome, although I know I always can do a little better. You always can get a little bit better on the baseball field, so I'm looking forward to that challenge.”

As impressive as his catch was of Jorge Polanco's fly ball Monday night in a home exhibition game against the Seattle Mariners, he made a catch in the Padres' home finale on Sept. 24 that was so jaw-dropping that it might have sealed the Gold Glove and Platinum Glove awards.

Using a perfectly timed leap, Tatis reached his glove high above the wall to rob St. Louis Cardinals pinch-hitter Michael Siani of a two-run homer. His left shoulder was even with the wall when he brought the ball back in. After landing and regaining his balance, and with his dreadlocks flying, Tatis threw to first to try to double off Masyn Winn.

“I would say that probably was the final touch to it, but I feel like, on a daily basis, going out there and being consistent in right field was the major buildup for that," Tatis said.

New manager Mike Shildt was in the organization the last two years before being elevated to replace Melvin, so he saw Tatis' transition up close.

“He gets 100% of the credit. He did 100% of the work,” Shildt said. “He gets the credit for his willingness and his mindset to do it. It's not easy. Clearly, he missed 2022 in its entirety. I remember looking at a ranking of shortstops after ‘21, that had him in the Top 10, rightfully so, and then you’re asking him to go move to another position, which he does with a tremendous attitude. And then it's just a matter of him embracing all the things that come with learning a new position.”

Tatis grew up in the game at the feet of his father, who played 11 seasons in the big leagues. His nickname, “El Niño,” means “little boy” in Spanish. It’s also the name of a weather pattern that brings rain.

He hit .257 in 141 games last year, with 25 homers and 78 RBIs.

“He'll have a great season this year,” fellow outfielder Jurickson Profar said. "He's a really good baseball player. He can do anything. I think he can pitch, too."

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB