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Hedges knocks 4th homer in four spring games

Padres catcher finds groove with new swing mechanics
MLB.com @AJCassavell

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Another game, another homer for Austin Hedges. The Padres catcher certainly seems to be embracing his new swing.

Hedges has played four games this spring, and he's homered in all of them, putting him atop the Cactus League and tied with the Yankees' Miguel Andujar for Spring Training. Friday's blast was a no-doubter, as Hedges turned on a 3-2 fastball from Royals reliever Scott Barlow.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Another game, another homer for Austin Hedges. The Padres catcher certainly seems to be embracing his new swing.

Hedges has played four games this spring, and he's homered in all of them, putting him atop the Cactus League and tied with the Yankees' Miguel Andujar for Spring Training. Friday's blast was a no-doubter, as Hedges turned on a 3-2 fastball from Royals reliever Scott Barlow.

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Hedges' 18 home runs last season were four shy of a record for a Padres catcher. But his on-base percentage floundered to .262, and he was quick to acknowledge that he needed to find a way to quit chasing pitches out of the strike zone.

Hedges' swing hasn't undergone a complete overhaul, by any means. His high leg kick and raised hands remain intact. But there's significantly less movement before Hedges loads. The idea is that a quieter approach at the plate will allow Hedges to pick up the ball better.

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"All I've been trying to do is get into a position where I can see the ball longer, slow the game down a little bit, hunt my pitch," Hedges said earlier this week. "Anything else, just disregard it."

In 10 Cactus League plate appearances, Hedges has five hits and two walks. Padres skipper Andy Green loves seeing early returns like those.

"He's worked hard on [his swing]," Green said. "You don't want to read too much into the first whatever number of at-bats, but it's been pretty special."

Villanueva at short?

The Padres will experiment with Christian Villanueva at shortstop, as they attempt to find a roster spot for the slugging third baseman. Of course, he's virtually a lock if he keeps hitting like he has during the first week of Cactus League play.

Video: KC@SD: Villanueva discusses his three-RBI game

Villanueva doubled and homered against the Royals on Friday, bringing his Cactus League totals to 9-for-16 with three dingers.

Villanueva's roster prospects are already very good, but they would get a significant boost if he could add "shortstop" to his resume. He's only played three games there in nine professional seasons, but Freddy Galvis played 162 games last season. Villanueva would only serve as a short-term safety net. If something were to happen to Galvis, another shortstop would be called up.

"Nobody is looking for him to be a Gold Glove backup shortstop," Green said. "But we'll see if he can man the position and offer some versatility."

Camp battles

Jose Pirela is a heavy favorite for a starting job -- whether at second base or in left field. He reinforced his case Friday with two hits and a walk in three plate appearances.

Video: KC@SD: Pirela comes home on a wild pitch

• Outfield candidate Franchy Cordero added another extra-base hit to his spring stat line with a seventh-inning double. He's 6-for-14 in the Cactus League with three doubles and two homers -- and that doesn't include his triple in Thursday's "B" game.

Injury updates

Carter Capps is slated for his Cactus League debut on Sunday, after undergoing surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome in September. It's been a struggle for Capps, who missed the 2016 season and part of '17 with Tommy John surgery. But he feels as though he's on a relatively normal progression this spring -- the first time he could say that since 2015 in Miami.

"I definitely feel like it's a reboot, almost," Capps said. "It's exciting. I've probably been wearing [pitching coach] Darren Balsley and [bullpen coach Doug Bochtler] out to get me back in a game, so it's definitely exciting for me."

• The Padres are hopeful infielder Cory Spangenberg will serve as DH on Saturday. Spangenberg has missed five games with a sore left wrist, but he went through full workouts Thursday and Friday.

• Outfielder Franmil Reyes has two Cactus League homers already, and he added a third in Thursday's "B" game. But he jammed his wrist sliding into third base and will miss "a couple days," Green said.

• Catcher Luis Torrens is day-to-day with oblique trouble.

Up next

When the Padres acquired Matt Strahm at the Trade Deadline last July, he was coming of surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon in his left knee. Strahm, who is competing for a starting job, will make his first appearance as a Padre on Saturday, when the Friars head to Mesa to face Oakland at 12:10 p.m. PT. Jordan Lyles -- also in that rotation mix -- will get the start. Listen to the game on Gameday Audio.

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

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