SEATTLE -- Austin Hedges is still a defense-first catcher. Chances are, he always will be. But with his performance at the plate this year, Hedges has long since dispelled the notion that he might be "defense-only."The Padres' backstop led the way in a 5-4 victory over the Mariners on Wednesday
SEATTLE -- Austin Hedges is still a defense-first catcher. Chances are, he always will be. But with his performance at the plate this year, Hedges has long since dispelled the notion that he might be "defense-only."
The Padres' backstop led the way in a 5-4 victory over the Mariners on Wednesday afternoon at Safeco Field. Hedges demolished a two-run homer to open the scoring in the second, and he went 2-for-4 to help finish a two-game sweep in Seattle, and a four-game sweep of the season series.
It's quite a statement from the 26-year-old Hedges, whose .242 batting average sits above the league average for catchers, and whose .739 OPS sits above the league average, period.
"Even last year, I think I did some things that you don't see a whole lot of catchers in the big leagues do," Hedges said. "Driving runners in, hitting home runs. Now I think I've taken it up to putting together better at-bats, being able to hit for a better average, a better on-base percentage.
"I want to be the best player I can be."
The Padres, of course, traded for Francisco Mejia -- MLB Pipeline's top catching prospect -- at the All-Star break. Since then, Hedges has asserted himself as a legitimate weapon on both sides of the ball. At this point, Hedges and Mejia are probably destined for a fierce battle for playing time next spring.
But Hedges' 2018 campaign didn't start quite so smoothly. He missed two months with a right elbow injury, and he saw his average dip to .165 upon his late-June return.
"It's been a roller coaster of a season, and I'm very proud of the adjustments and the improvements that I've made," Hedges said. "It wasn't easy. ... But it's brought a lot of peace to my game where I feel like I can just be me, and I can play the game."
Hedges' most noteworthy adjustment was a swing alteration in which he lowered his center of gravity to become a bit less upright.
"His power's played a lot more because of that," Padres manager Andy Green said. "I think the 'compete' factor to every at-bat is up. He's definitely very confident in the batters' box right now."
Hedges' 402-foot homer was his 13th of the season, and it came after he won an eight-pitch duel with Mariners starter Wade LeBlanc. Hunter Renfroe also took LeBlanc deep, destroying a hanging breaking ball in the fifth to put the Padres up, 5-0.
San Diego starter Joey Lucchesi gave three back in the bottom of the frame, and he'd depart after five innings. Lucchesi allowed six hits and only struck out three, but he managed to limit the damage and left with a two-run lead. The bullpen took over from there.
• Renfroe's revamped two-strike approach paying dividends
The Padres' middle relief corps put on a show for the ages.
Between the sixth and eighth innings, nine Mariners came to the plate, and all nine struck out. It marked the longest string of strikeouts by Padres relievers in franchise history, and it tied the franchise record for consecutive strikeouts, set by Jake Peavy on April 25, 2007.
"That's what we're capable of on any given night," said rookie right-hander Trey Wingenter, who opened the streak by striking out the side in the sixth. "It's a really deep bullpen, and whoever gets the ball, we trust that they're going to attack, have success and pass it to the next guy."
Robert Stock followed Wingenter with a strikeout to open the seventh before Jose Castillo whiffed three straight. Craig Stammen added two more to end the eighth. The four combined to throw 42 pitches, and they recorded 13 swings and misses.
"They punched out everybody," Hedges said. "It was awesome. We've got nasty guys out there. Everybody's throwing 100 [mph], and even our guy who doesn't throw 100 [mph], Craig Stammen, is punching everybody out because he's executing all his pitches."
The streak ended in the ninth when Kirby Yates surrendered a lead-off homer to Kyle Seager, making it 5-4. But Yates slammed the door for his ninth save.
With their four victories over the Mariners this year, the Padres recorded their fourth season-series sweep of at least four games in franchise history. They went 7-0 against the Cubs in 2006 and the Marlins in '11, and they went 6-0 against the Pirates in '10.
HE SAID IT
"Kirby and Craig, they know how to go about their business. They're really professional. You get to see a guy right next to you in the locker room do it the right way every day, and it's rubbing off on the guys who haven't been around very long. It's huge for us." -- Wingenter
After an off-day Thursday, the Padres host the Rangers on Friday night at Petco Park. Robbie Erlin takes the ball opposite fellow left-hander Yohander Mendez, with first pitch slated for 7:10 p.m. PT. Erlin is looking for a strong finish to boost his case for a rotation place next season. He's posted a 2.05 ERA out of the bullpen this year, compared with a 7.46 mark as a starter.
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.