© 2014 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

6/8/2014 3:17 P.M. ET

Rivera swinging hot bat, getting more time behind plate

SAN DIEGO -- Rene Rivera began this season as Andrew Cashner's personal catcher, largely starting just once every five games before giving way to Yasmani Grandal and Nick Hundley, two backstops regarded as better offensive threats.

But with Hundley now playing for Baltimore and Grandal hovering below the Mendoza line, Rivera started seven of the last eight games entering Sunday, when he got a day off.

"He's playing well and I like the way he's catching," said Padres manager Bud Black. "He's doing a good job with the pitching staff and our team ERA is really good when he's catching."

Rivera's catching ERA (2.75) is a full run better than Grandal's -- but he's also been making headway at the plate while his playing time has increased.

In the last eight games, he has a slash line of .300/.440/.550 with five doubles and five walks. Not bad for someone known for their prowess behind the plate more than in the batter's box.

"All the work that I've put into with [hitting coaches Phil] Plantier and Alonzo [Powell] is paying off," Rivera said. "The main thing we work on is be consistent with my swing. That's been our main goal since last year."

Rivera is hoping his play will result in him making the leap from third-stringer to full-time starter.

"I haven't really been able to play every day in the big leagues. This is great," Rivera said. "I finally get an opportunity to do it, I'm trying to take advantage."

Black is certainly pleased with Rivera's progress, but he's hoping that Grandal can find his swing after he was suspended for the first 50 games of 2013 for testosterone use before tearing his ACL in July.

"Grandal potentially has a lot of upside," Black said. "A switch-hitting catcher in his mid-20s with some tools, you'd like to think that the guy could grab the job and get the majority of playing time.

"But for now, Rene's playing better."

Alonso puts homer drought behind him, finds stroke

SAN DIEGO -- Not long ago, Yonder Alonso had gone nearly a full year without hitting a home run. By the time he crossed home plate on Saturday night, after rescuing the Padres with a tying two-out bomb in the bottom of the ninth, that homerless streak seemed like a long time ago.

"When I went up to bat I just wanted to get on base and see what happened," Alonso said. "It was one of those things where we have to come back."

San Diego's first baseman hadn't recorded a four-bagger from May 20, 2013, until the second game of a doubleheader on May 15. But since then, he's been making up for lost time and helped carry a Padres team that has floundered offensively.

"People are going to opinionate and have their numbers and stats and say I haven't hit a homer in this long or that long," Alonso said. "They don't necessarily understand all the things that are going on. For me, it's just making sure I put the ball in play."

In his last 21 games, he's hitting .287 with five homers and 13 RBIs.

"The [homers] are coming now, and that's fun," Alonso said. "[But] you don't necessarily have to hit a homer to win a game. You can make two or three diving stops on defense that saves two runs, and we win a ballgame 2-1. That's just as important as a homer."

That might be true, but if Alonso can help spark a streak of clutch hitting for the majors' worst offense, Padres fans would probably be just as happy.

Black not worried about Stults getting on track

SAN DIEGO -- It's had been seven days since Eric Stults made his last start last Sunday against the Chicago White Sox. Since then, he lost his grandmother, who died last week after battling Alzheimer's Disease for years.

Padres manager Bud Black says he isn't concerned about Stults, who's given up 12 earned runs in 16.2 innings over his last three starts.

"Mentally, he's a tough kid," Black said. "I don't worry about his preparation. I don't worry about his competitiveness."

Opponents have hitting .309 against Stults, and after allowing 18 homers in more than 200 innings in 2013, he's already allowed 12 this season.

"Stultzy is a guy like a lot of pitchers in this league who have to rely on location," Black said. "They have to change speeds, they have to hit the glove. They have to do what they do, and with him, it's moving the ball in and out, keeping the ball down, changing speeds effectively and not leaving balls up in the middle of the plate."

Sunday will be the second time the southpaw has faced the Nationals this season. He got a no-decision in a 4-3 victory on the road April 24 when he allowed two runs on 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings.

Will Laws is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.