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Renfroe's two-strike approach a strength in '18

Urias unlikely to return this year; Lauer, Erlin flipped in rotation
MLB.com @AJCassavell

SEATTLE -- It was precisely the type of situation that would've buried Hunter Renfroe a season ago. Down 0-2 in a big spot against a dominant right-hander, Renfroe would've stood no chance.

But it's a new year and a new Renfroe at the plate -- particularly over the past few months. And so when Renfroe fell behind 0-2 against Mariners closer Edwin Diaz to lead off the ninth Tuesday night, the battle wasn't close to being finished.

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SEATTLE -- It was precisely the type of situation that would've buried Hunter Renfroe a season ago. Down 0-2 in a big spot against a dominant right-hander, Renfroe would've stood no chance.

But it's a new year and a new Renfroe at the plate -- particularly over the past few months. And so when Renfroe fell behind 0-2 against Mariners closer Edwin Diaz to lead off the ninth Tuesday night, the battle wasn't close to being finished.

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"I'm a lot more comfortable, and it's because I've been practicing it in the cage and [in batting practice]," Renfroe said of hitting from behind in the count. "I'm letting the ball get deep, shortening up a bit, making sure I'm as short and quick to the ball as possible. I need to be able to hit the inside pitch and the outside slider away. That's what I've got to cover."

On the whole, Renfroe is hitting .304 from behind in the count this year, compared with a .187 mark last year. Against right-handers, Renfroe has made huge strides this season -- he's hitting .326 since July 1 when behind in the count against righties.

It's a sign he's picking up pitches much better. And sure enough, on Tuesday night, Renfroe smacked a 97-mph fastball from Diaz to left-center for a single that sparked the Padres' go-ahead rally in the ninth.

"I'm recognizing pitches, because I'm not gearing up to swing as hard as I can," Renfroe said of his two-strike approach. "I'm just seeing the ball and hitting it."

Easier said than done, of course.

"It takes an effort to not swing," Renfroe said. "You see the ball coming, it used to be, 'OK, I'm going to gear up to swing as hard as I can.' Now it's, just put the barrel to the ball."

Renfroe has ticked the two most important boxes on the Padres' preseason checklist for him this season. He's made the proper adjustments at the plate to become a threat against right-handed pitching. And he's honed his tools in the outfield enough to add value defensively as a corner outfielder.

The next step? Simple: more of the same.

"I've really just got to keep doing it," Renfroe said. "That's the hard thing with baseball. ... It's a long season, and that's the challenge to it -- making sure your head's right and making sure you're doing it day in, day out."

On the year, Renfroe has posted an .837 OPS against righties -- which is actually better than his mark against left-handers. A year ago, he was 500 points worse against righties.

If Renfroe can be the player he's been during the second half of the season, that's an incredibly valuable piece on a winning roster. Since the All-Star break, he's hitting .277 with an .882 OPS and 14 homers.

But in Major League Baseball, status quo is never that simple.

"The league's going to adjust to him," said Padres manager Andy Green. "There's certain pitches he's hit very well recently, and they're going to go back to a different way of pitching him. He's just going to have to play that cat-and-mouse game a lot, which everybody has to do."

Urias still doubtful
A day after Luis Urias pulled his left hamstring while running to first base Tuesday night, the Padres continued to indicate that it's unlikely Urias returns before the end of the season.

Video: SD@SEA: Urias injures leg running to first

"He's moving around better than anticipated," Green said. "I still don't think it's likely we see him before the season's over. It's just too short a timeframe." Urias -- the top-ranked second-base prospect, according to MLBPipeline -- was hobbled while lunging toward first on an eighth-inning grounder up the line in the Padres' 2-1 victory. He was 10-for-48 during his first big league stint after earning his promotion in late August.

Noteworthy
• Lefty-hitting shortstop Javy Guerra is expected to receive his first career start on Saturday -- the next time the Padres are slated to face a right-handed pitcher. When that happens, shortstop Freddy Galvis will likely shift to second base.

That's one of the Padres' plans for replacing Urias. Cory Spangenberg started at second on Wednesday, and the righty-hitting Jose Pirela could get the start Friday against Texas lefty Yohander Mendez.

Francisco Mejia started in the leadoff spot Wednesday, serving as the designated hitter. That's not necessarily the long-term lineup spot for the newly promoted Mejia, Green said. But it probably won't be the last time he's inserted there against a left-hander this season.

"We're not set up with a prototype at the top of the order when [Travis Jankowski] doesn't play," Green said. "Against left-handed pitching, we're searching for that guy right now. We'll take a look at it. … I don't think it's hurting anybody to get him as many at-bats as possible at the top of the order."

• The Padres flipped Robbie Erlin and Eric Lauer in their starting rotation, meaning Erlin will start Friday and Lauer will take the ball Saturday against Texas. The move was made with the goal of giving the rookie Lauer a start in Dodger Stadium on Sept. 21, with Los Angeles in the midst of a pennant race.

"We're lining up [Lauer's] last few starts hopefully to pitch in some hostile, tough environments," Green said.

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

San Diego Padres, Hunter Renfroe