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Hedges, Ellis benefit from unique bond

MLB.com

SAN DIEGO -- The dynamic duo of catchers Austin Hedges and A.J. Ellis just formed this March, but you'd never guess that after watching them communicate.

The two thrive off a relationship founded off respect, with Hedges eager to learn from Ellis' 11-year big league career and Ellis eager to share. As the younger backstop hopes to emerge as a face of the Padres, he turns to the veteran often -- although most of the time Ellis is already there to help.

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SAN DIEGO -- The dynamic duo of catchers Austin Hedges and A.J. Ellis just formed this March, but you'd never guess that after watching them communicate.

The two thrive off a relationship founded off respect, with Hedges eager to learn from Ellis' 11-year big league career and Ellis eager to share. As the younger backstop hopes to emerge as a face of the Padres, he turns to the veteran often -- although most of the time Ellis is already there to help.

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"I go to him for advice almost every day," Hedges said. "He's been doing this for so long and had so much success, especially working with pitchers. A lot of times I don't even need to ask. He's there to help by mentioning something he sees. We have a very good, trustworthy relationship that I feel like we can say anything to each other."

For Ellis, guiding Hedges is something he loves to do and even takes pride in.

"It's been really refreshing for me," he said. "It makes me feel way younger than I am to be around a catcher of his quality. He goes about his business as a professional. He's advanced beyond his age from a defensive standpoint. It's been fun to partner with him and be that caddy for him."

It was almost a relationship that never was. Ellis joined the Padres this spring on a non roster deal, but made the team as Hedges' backup. The two have split games relatively equally in the first half though, as Hedges spent eight weeks on the disabled list with elbow tendinitis, with Ellis and Raffy Lopez filling in.

When Hedges returned, the box score featured higher offensive stats from the catcher position. Hedges had struggled offensively since being called up to the big leagues in 2015, but Ellis has noticed a new persona this season.

"He's much more comfortable with himself," Ellis said. "He knows who he is and he knows what he brings to the table. He knows what his value is, and that's the impact that he makes behind the plate every single night. That impact is undeniable. It's elite in our game."

Since returning from injury, Hedges is batting .350 with two home runs, but his easiness on the field has attributed to something that can't be measured on a stat sheet. Hedges' confidence in himself has also allowed the younger pitchers in the rotation to follow suit. Rookies like Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchesi have gravitated to Hedges, and both catchers and manager Andy Green have noticed.

"Those young guys on the mound, Lauer and Lucchesi especially, they feel a guy behind home plate who is so invested in their success," Green said. "[Hedges] impacts the game radically from that position."

On Tuesday with Hedges behind the dish, Lauer hurled 8 2/3 innings of one-run ball in a 4-1 win over the Dodgers. The youngster didn't shake his catcher off once. Lucchesi holds a 2.31 ERA over 46 2/3 innings in the nine games he's played with Hedges as his batterymate.

"I think it all starts off the field," Hedges remarked. "When you're in the clubhouse, away from the field, on the planes and bus -- all the time we have, especially on the road, we to get to know our teammates as people first and foremost. The more that guys like Eric or Joey can trust me as a person more than a catcher, I think that translates on the field."

Ellis agreed, saying that the improved relationships the younger arms have with Hedges has already proved beneficial.

"The way he pushes these guys through the game, the way that he talks to them in the dugout in between innings, that's making a major impact in both of their growth," Ellis said. "They're close to the same age, going through the same battles -- Austin speaks life into them throughout the course of the game."

Katie Woo covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @katiejwoo.

San Diego Padres, A.J. Ellis, Austin Hedges