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Padres take patient approach to Hedges' bat

Defensive star has struggled at plate, but turnaround may be near
MLB.com @AJCassavell

PHOENIX -- Austin Hedges is a defense-first catcher. Always has been, always will be.

In practically every facet, Hedges is one of the game's elite backstops. Since his 2015 callup, he ranks among the league leaders in framing and caught-stealing percentage. He's widely regarded as an excellent game caller and blocker.

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PHOENIX -- Austin Hedges is a defense-first catcher. Always has been, always will be.

In practically every facet, Hedges is one of the game's elite backstops. Since his 2015 callup, he ranks among the league leaders in framing and caught-stealing percentage. He's widely regarded as an excellent game caller and blocker.

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"He's as valuable as there is in Major League Baseball with his glove on his hand," said Padres manager Andy Green.

Hedges wears that defense-first label with pride. But he'd probably prefer if the gap between his glove and his bat weren't so large.

At the plate, 2018 has been a struggle for Hedges. He missed eight weeks with right elbow tendinitis. He's hitting just .200 with a .599 OPS.

Lately, it appears Hedges could be turning a corner. He has hits in each of his last three games, including a laser home run on Thursday night. It's arguably his best offensive stretch this season. Hedges would like for it to become the norm.

"I believe I can be a great offensive catcher," Hedges said. "I can help the team win at the plate. I want to be the whole package. I want to be able to contribute offensively and defensively."

The Padres seem much less concerned with Hedges' offense. They think he's poised to turn things, and they're going help him do so.

But if he doesn't? No big deal, say the Padres. He's still bringing more value than anyone else with his defense -- at a position where defense is valued above all others.

"We're patient on the offensive side, because we see the value on the defensive side," Green said.

Video: Must C Crafty: Hedges dives, catches popup, turns two

That value is very difficult to quantify. The most important aspect is Hedges' framing abilities. The subtleness with which he receives pitches means that his pitchers' strikes remain strikes and their balls become strikes.

According to Baseball Prospectus, Hedges finished second in framing runs last season. He's 10th this year, despite having missed half his team's games. Green had an apt analogy for the impact of those numbers.

"All you've got to look at is what happens when you change counts," Green said. "Guys in 2-0, 3-1 counts become Mark McGwire in '98. 1-2 or 0-2, and they're the equivalent of me. The question is: Who do you want to face?

"[Hedges] is getting you pitches all the time and turning counts in your favor. He's effectively turning hitters into guys like me instead of Mark McGwire."

McGwire -- now the Padres' bench coach -- is one of the greatest home run hitters in the sport's history. Green finished his four-year career with an OPS+ of 79.

"You can affect the game every single pitch," Hedges said. "That's something that definitely helps take your mind off the offense sometimes. You can flush that at-bat. I might have gotten out, I might be having a rough time at the plate, but I can go out, I can help my pitching staff. I can call a good game. I can block. I can receive. I can do all these things that can help us win."

For all those reasons, the Padres remain as convinced as ever that Hedges is their catcher of the future, even if his offense continues to stall.

But they're also convinced that Hedges' offense will pick up. It's not uncommon for a young catcher to struggle offensively before a breakthrough later in his career. Yadier Molina is the most obvious example. Hedges' backup, A.J. Ellis, took a similar path.

"That's been a very consistent theme for us," Green said. "Hedges is still 25. There's a lot of good stuff out in front of him offensively."

Makita returns, Castillo to DL
The Padres placed lefty reliever Jose Castillo on the disabled list Saturday with a right hamstring strain. Castillo, who owns a 2.84 ERA in 13 appearances, will be out through the All-Star break, and potentially longer, Green said.

That cleared the way for submarine-style righty Kazuhisa Makita to be recalled from Triple-A El Paso -- a day after he had been optioned there. Makita arrived in Salt Lake City on Friday night just in time for the game. He didn't pitch, and moments after it had finished, Makita received a phone call while he was eating dinner. He was headed back to the big leagues.

It's been a roller-coaster season for the 33-year-old rookie, who spent the past seven seasons with the Seibu Lions in Japan. He was optioned in late May when his ERA jumped to 6.55. But he's posted three scoreless big league outings since he was initially recalled two weeks ago.

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

San Diego Padres, Austin Hedges