Could Renfroe bat cleanup for Padres?

Outfielder making case to be in lineup with strong start

April 7th, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- opened the season on the Padres' bench. He's spent the past 10 days making a loud case to entrench himself in the cleanup spot.

Literally, it's been loud. Lately, Renfroe’s contact has been as good as just about any hitter in baseball.

With his 96 mph average exit velocity, Renfroe ranks ninth in the Majors and atop of a Padres offense that's seen plenty of hard contact from , and already.

The most telling part of Renfroe's hot start has been his ability to square up the baseball. Statcast uses a metric called "barrels" to count extremely high quality of contact -- the type of contact that will set a hitter up for success more often than not.

When Renfroe has put the ball in play this season, he's "barreled" it 25 percent of the time. He ranks sixth in the Majors in barrels per plate appearance.

"It's a pretty perfect feeling, and it's indescribable unless you've done it," Renfroe said of his high-quality contact. "It's pure. You just hear a loud 'thwack' and the ball jumps off the bat."

Naturally, Renfroe's numbers reflect his hot start. He leads the team with a 1.376 OPS. Entering play Sunday, that ranked seventh in the Majors among players with at least 20 plate appearances. Perhaps more importantly, Renfroe has struck out just three times. His chase rate is down slightly, from 30.7 percent in his career to 27 this season. But his whiff rate has seen a major decline, from 31 percent to 14.7.

Renfroe finished his 2018 season strong, and he insists not much has changed. The one thing that has changed? The Padres have now Renfroe, Reyes and Wil Myers fighting for two spots in the outfield corners.

That leaves Renfroe battling for playing time, and he's clearly made a strong case. Manager Andy Green has indicated he'll continue with an outfield rotation. But even when Renfroe's on the bench, he's impacting games. On Friday, he saw one pitch and clobbered a go-ahead pinch-hit home run in the sixth inning.

"It's a fun group," Renfroe said. "It always helps when we're winning, but still, this group is really fun to be a part of."

• Hosmer is seeing fastballs at a 66 percent clip -- a higher rate, by far, than any other point in his career. Also for the first time in his career, he's seeing pitches in the strike zone 50 percent of the time. (Both numbers were entering play Sunday.)

Call it the Machado effect. It's a small sample size, but Hosmer says it's no coincidence pitchers have attacked him this season. He's spent most of the year entrenched in the No. 2 spot with Machado hitting behind him.

"He's Manny Machado," Hosmer said. "Guys don't want to face him, especially with guys on base. You definitely see more heaters hitting in front of him. ... It just changes your mentality, changes the aggressiveness in your at-bat. When you're in a hitter's count, you're going to get something in the zone."

• Outfielder was available off the bench for Sunday's series finale, the Padres said. He exited Saturday's game in the fifth inning with a sore elbow.

• Right-hander pitched two critical innings in Saturday's come-from-behind win over St. Louis. After a trade with Cincinnati earlier in the week, Wisler joined the team Friday -- precisely four years to the day the Padres dealt him to the Braves in the Craig Kimbrel deal.

"It's definitely been overhaul since I've been here," Wisler said. "It's been cool to see this team come together the last few years, watching them from afar, and then to be a part of it now is pretty awesome."