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Renfroe at his best batting against the best

Lamet takes step on road back from Tommy John surgery
@AJCassavell
May 7, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Two outs, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth: That's Hunter Renfroe's spot. Tie game, pitchers' duel, one run might win it: That's Renfroe's spot, too. The Padres’ slugging outfielder has come up big against two of the game's most established pitchers in his last two games. Renfroe

SAN DIEGO -- Two outs, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth: That's Hunter Renfroe's spot.

Tie game, pitchers' duel, one run might win it: That's Renfroe's spot, too.

The Padres’ slugging outfielder has come up big against two of the game's most established pitchers in his last two games. Renfroe took Kenley Jansen deep for a walk-off grand slam on Sunday, and he launched a go-ahead blast against Jacob deGrom on Monday night.

"That level he has, not many people can do that," said Padres manager Andy Green. "That's what's special about him. In a big moment, I want Hunter up. I love Hunter when the game's on the line. I love Hunter when there's a big guy on the mound and somebody's got to tackle him."

Renfroe's last four homers have come against Sean Doolittle, Stephen Strasburg, Jansen and deGrom. Not a bad list, especially considering all four home runs have given the Padres a lead -- and two of them won the game in the ninth.

"I really enjoy it," Renfroe said. "Those guys are the best for a reason. You have to step your game up against those guys. You have to have that little bit of extra focus. Obviously, you want to have that focus against every guy, but in those spots, it just brings it up more."

It's worth noting the other side of that statement, however. Renfroe fancies himself a big-game player. But what about the other games?

"I love it about him, and I hate it about him, if I'm being honest," Green said. "I love that he's got another gear that he can find. And I hate that he doesn't live at that gear all the time.

"That's really what separates him from the great players in the game. That's the one thing that keeps him from being dominant all the time. When he goes up there against Jacob deGrom or Kenley Jansen, he rises up to meet them. He has that gear inside of him, that ability inside of him."

It's not a knock on Renfroe's level of focus, per se. In Green's eyes, it's a matter of where Renfroe puts his focus in the first place.

Against lesser pitchers, Green says, Renfroe tends to try to crush the baseball -- often at the expense of his plate discipline.

"There's moments where he wants to hit it on top of Western Metal Supply [building in left field], when off the Western Metal Supply counts the same," Green said. "There's no 3-pointer up there."

No one doubts Renfroe's power potential. (He’s the only hitter to hit a home run on top of the Western Metal Building, and he has done it twice.) Renfroe is second on the team with eight homers, and he’s first in home runs per plate appearance. But his on-base percentage routinely sits below .300, and it's at .290 this season.

Renfroe willingly acknowledges the need to shorten his swing, and he's making a point to fix it. In that regard, it's worth looking at what makes him so successful against the Jansens and deGroms of the world.

"I'm not trying to hit homers," Renfroe said. "It just kind of happens that way. I want to hit singles, and it just happens to go out of the ballpark against them."

Noteworthy
• Right-hander Dinelson Lamet pitched an inning in an extended Spring Training game on Tuesday, a significant step in his recovery from 2018 Tommy John surgery. There's still no timetable for Lamet's return, but his velocity is back to where it sat during his impressive '17 rookie campaign.

"He's bigger, he's stronger, he's worked really hard," Green said. "It's been really impressive how he's attacked his rehab."

• Rookie shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. took batting practice with the team on Tuesday, and he went through most other baseball activities. The Padres are still playing coy with Tatis’ status, after he suffered a hamstring strain April 28 at Washington. He’s eligible to come off the injured list for this weekend's series at Colorado.

• The Padres named Merrilee Neal their honorary bat girl as part of Major League Baseball's "Going To Bat Against Breast Cancer" initiative, which is commemorated every Mother's Day. Neal was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago and has since dedicated herself to making a difference for uninsured and underinsured women battling the disease in San Diego. She has helped raise over $100,000 for Susan G. Komen San Diego.

With the Padres on the road for Mother's Day this weekend, Neal will be honored on Wednesday, May 22 at Petco Park.

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