SAN DIEGO -- The Padres have long believed that catcher Austin Hedges is a National League Gold Glove Award candidate, if not a favorite. Generally, that's because of the little things Hedges does behind the plate. But the 25-year-old Padres backstop makes his share of flashy plays, too.
Hedges' best defensive gem yet may have come in the third inning of Thursday night's 7-0 loss to the Giants. San Francisco center fielder Gregor Blanco attempted a bunt with runners on first and third and one out, and he popped it behind the plate.
Hedges sprung out of his crouch and made an incredible dive to rob Blanco. Then, from his backside, he fired to first for the double play, doubling up Brandon Crawford, who had broken for second on the pitch.
"We're not working all Spring Training on diving popups," Hedges said. "But it is cool to get on a highlight reel every now and then, because catchers don't usually get that opportunity."
It was reminiscent of a similar play Hedges made last season at Citi Field, when he laid out to make a catch in foul territory against the Mets. Only this time, Hedges rifled a throw to first baseman Eric Hosmer, turning one out into two quashing the Giants' rally.
"Honestly, I didn't even think about the double play," Hedges said. "I kind of stumbled, and I didn't get a good first step. I was just pumped that I caught the ball, and I looked up, and Hoz was just waving at me, so I threw it."
Asked to compare the two catches, Hedges gave the slight edge to last season's grab, because of the distance he had to cover. Still, he noted, "Both were pretty cool plays."
That's understating things quite a bit. Hedges' catch last May was one of the best by a catcher in 2017. This catch is an early contender for the same title in '18.
"That's about as tough a play as you'll see by a catcher," Hosmer said. "Once he caught it, I knew we had a good chance of doubling him up from there."
Hedges' top strength has always been his defense. He led the Majors in pop time last year, and he's consistently among the pitch-framing leaders as well. To some surprise in the Padres' organization, Hedges wasn't a finalist for the Gold Glove last season.
"He does a great job receiving the baseball, does an unbelievable job blocking the baseball," Padres manager Andy Green said. "We don't think a ton about the credit he does or doesn't receive. He's obviously one of the best defensive catchers in the game."
Hedges' bat has been fairly quiet this season, and he hasn't put his elite arm on full display yet either, throwing out just two of nine potential basestealers. There's more than one way Hedges can impact a game with his athleticism behind the plate, however. Even by Hedges' lofty standards, his diving play on Thursday was special.