PEORIA, Ariz. -- When he picks the right pitch to swing at, Austin Hedges is confident he can mash with the best of them. Problem is: finding that pitch in the first place.Hedges didn't do that well enough in 2017. He launched 18 home runs, coming within four of Mike
PEORIA, Ariz. -- When he picks the right pitch to swing at, Austin Hedges is confident he can mash with the best of them. Problem is: finding that pitch in the first place.
Hedges didn't do that well enough in 2017. He launched 18 home runs, coming within four of Mike Piazza's record for a Padres catcher. But opposing pitchers exploited his aggressiveness, and his batting average floundered to .214.
So Hedges went into the offseason with the goal of simplifying things at the plate, tinkering with his swing to reduce the moving parts.
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So far, so good. Hedges has played three games this spring, and he's homered in all of them, including a solo shot in the bottom of the second inning during the Padres' 10-5 win over the Dodgers on Wednesday.
"When I got mistakes last year, I did damage, but I was chasing out of the zone," Hedges said. "I'm obviously not chasing pitches on purpose. But I don't think my body was in position to see the ball well enough. All I've been trying to do is get into a position where I can see the ball longer, slow the game down a little bit, hunt my pitch. Anything else, just disregard it."
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Hedges' primary value will never be derived from his bat. Defensively, he's one of the best catchers in baseball, combining a rocket arm, expert framing skills and a proficiency at handling his pitching staff.
Still, the Padres feel there's no reason Hedges can't bring more value to the plate. Hedges spent the offseason in San Diego, working out daily at Petco Park. His swing changes are subtle, but there's less movement in his hands and upper body when he loads to take a cut.
"We were looking to stay a little bit more centered, keep his head forward instead of rocking back over his back foot," said Padres manager Andy Green. "He's done a real nice job. It's quieted the ball down for him to where he sees it better."
On Wednesday, Hedges worked the count full, got a belt-high fastball and sent it three-quarters of the way up the left-field berm. He's 3-for-5 this spring with a walk and five RBIs.
That sample size is far too small to draw any conclusions, but for Hedges, it's a sign he's headed in the right direction.
"It's great to see results now obviously, just because you work so hard for so many months in the offseason," Hedges said. "You definitely want to prove to yourself that what you did is going to work in a game. Yeah, it's Spring Training, but you're still seeing big league pitchers. It gives you some confidence going forward to continue trusting the process."
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.