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Hedges on opportunities: 'I expect to get them'

@AJCassavell
August 19, 2019

CINCINNATI -- Austin Hedges celebrated his 27th birthday with one of the best games of his career on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park, going 4-for-4 with a critical go-ahead home run in a 3-2 win over the Phillies. On Monday at Great American Ball Park, Hedges was back on the

CINCINNATI -- Austin Hedges celebrated his 27th birthday with one of the best games of his career on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park, going 4-for-4 with a critical go-ahead home run in a 3-2 win over the Phillies. On Monday at Great American Ball Park, Hedges was back on the Padres' bench.

That's the nature of San Diego's catching situation these days, where Francisco Mejia is scorching hot and has grabbed hold of the bulk of the playing time.

Still, Hedges and the Padres are hopeful that Sunday's coming-out party could be the start of a strong finish -- akin to his late-season breakout last year. If that were to happen, San Diego would seemingly find itself without enough playing time to go around behind the plate.

But the Padres don't view it that way.

"Look around at teams that are winning baseball games at a high clip," said Padres manager Andy Green. "You have to have really good players that play 60 to 100 games if you're going to win a championship. Trying to say there's not enough playing time is a narrative that I don't buy and our organization doesn't buy.

"To take it a step further: There's no player that's going to say, 'Sweet, just play me 60 times.' They all want to play more. But in order for us to be the best we can be, you have to have guys that do that role and do it really well."

Sure enough, Hedges has made it clear he thinks he deserves more playing time. Despite his struggles at the plate, he's been one of the game's top defensive catchers. Hedges leads the Majors in defensive runs saved at the position, even though he's only been getting 42 percent of the Padres’ catcher starts since Mejia was recalled two months ago.

"Obviously you have to earn your opportunities," Hedges said. "If I earn those opportunities, then I expect to get them. … I feel like I've earned it just with what I've been doing defensively. But if I bring offense to the table, that's just icing on the cake."

Hedges is quick to say he feels he's at his best when he's playing regularly. The numbers don't back that assertion. He owns a .250/.306/.500 slash line with a 104 wRC+ while playing sporadically in the second half, compared to his .185/.245/.310 line from before the break.

For now, the Padres will continue to tinker behind the dish, based on a number of day-to-day factors: Who's pitching for the Padres? Who's pitching for the opponent? Who's the hot hand?

Said one Padres official: "Catchers are becoming like running backs in the NFL. Good teams don't have just one." A season ago, only one catcher -- the Cubs’ Willson Contreras -- caught 75 percent of his team’s innings.

It seems unlikely Hedges will ever slot into the everyday role he envisions for himself. And certainly not with Mejia hitting .325/.375/.516 since he was recalled on June 17.

Still, if Hedges can stabilize his offensive production and Mejia keeps raking, it's worth wondering whether the Padres would try and find room for both in the lineup. Mejia, after all, played outfield in the Indians' Minor League system, and he started a game in left field earlier this season.

According to multiple people familiar with the club’s thinking, that’s highly unlikely as a long-term solution. The Padres have plenty of outfield depth already, and they don't want Mejia taxing himself at a new position during his off-days from behind the plate.

Instead, the Padres are happy to let the timeshare continue. It’s working so far. In the second half, they've gotten 1.3 fWAR from behind the plate -- which trails only Philadelphia and San Francisco in the Majors.

"We thought we could have the best catching tandem in baseball," Green said. "It's taken a while to get to a point where we feel like it's hitting its stride. But these guys are both doing some really nice things."

Padres release Spring Training schedule
Major League Baseball unveiled its Spring Training schedule on Monday, and the Padres are set to open their 2020 Cactus League slate with their annual charity game against the Mariners at Peoria Stadium in Peoria, Ariz., on Feb. 22.

2020 Padres Spring Training schedule

They also finish the Cactus League against Seattle precisely one month later, on March 22 in Peoria. The two clubs have shared the Peoria Sports Complex for the past 26 seasons.

Pitchers and catchers are slated to report to Peoria on Feb. 10, and the first full-squad workout is set for Feb. 15. A week later, Cactus League play begins.

The Padres' spring slate is highlighted by one home game against the Dodgers -- on March 9 in Peoria -- and an away split-squad tilt on March 18. They'll play the Giants twice -- on March 1 at home and on March 20 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The Padres are slated for off-days on March 10 and 17. San Diego's regular season is slated to begin March 26 against the Rockies at Petco Park. It's unclear what exhibition games the club might play during the three-day gap between the end of camp and the start of the season.

Injury updates
Right-hander Pedro Avila sustained a season-ending injury to the UCL in his right elbow while pitching for Double-A Amarillo on Thursday. Green wouldn't discuss the next step for Avila, who made one start for the big league club earlier this season, but Tommy John surgery remains a possibility.

Right-hander Garrett Richards will throw at least one more bullpen session, but he could resume his rehab stint shortly thereafter, Green said. Richards has missed the entire season because of Tommy John surgery, and his first Minors stint was cut short due to right shoulder tightness. The Padres remain optimistic that Richards will return this season.

Green noted that the club is also hopeful left-hander Adrian Morejon could return before the season ends. The Padres' No. 6 prospect, Morejon is currently rehabbing a left shoulder impingement and hasn't yet resumed throwing.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.