Hedges' improvement hinges on timing

Padres catcher fighting for backup role behind Norris

Hedges' improvement hinges on timing

PEORIA, Ariz. -- For the entirety of his professional career, Austin Hedges' offensive game has lagged behind his defensive skills.

In fairness, that says far more about how strong his defensive game is than it being a knock on him offensively.

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But could Hedges finally be closing that gap?

In a very small sample size, some mechanical fixes he's made appear to be taking hold. Hedges is hitting .300 in his first 10 at-bats of Cactus League play, with two home runs, one double and six RBIs. He's struck out just once.

"He has put in a lot of work and is doing really well," said Padres manager Andy Green.

Hedges on new drills at camp

If you can't find Hedges by his clubhouse locker in the morning, chances are he's huddled in the cage with first-year hitting coach Alan Zinter. This has been more an extension of their work before arriving in Arizona, as they talked and worked on hitting this winter at Petco Park in San Diego.

What has Hedges worked on this spring? Timing, for the most part, which he said will give him a better chance to succeed at the plate.

"It's really all a matter of timing. For me, if I can get my front toe off the ground, starting to load on time, which for me has to be early," Hedges said. "Once I get that foot off the ground, it allows me to get to full separation, and that will allow me to have a consistent bat path and, ultimately, more power, as well."

But that's just one part of the swing component Hedges has been working on.

"The second part of the load, what we call launch position, which is basically the most powerful position you can be in before you make your first movement to the baseball," he said.

Hedges, who is in competition with Christian Bethancourt for the backup catching job to Derek Norris, showed power on Tuesday when he drilled two home runs in a game against the D-backs.

Hedges on catching competition

The first home run he hit was to right field, with the other one clearing the left-field fence was a wide margin.

"It's always a work in progress. It's still going to be little by little every day. I don't want to feel like I have to be early. I want to feel like I can do it on time. Each day I have to keep remembering that that," Hedges said. "…The last three or four days, it's become a little more repeatable, which makes me happy."

Hedges, who hit .168 in 137 at-bats in 2015 with the team after being promoted from Triple-A El Paso, is a career .256/.316/.390 hitter in parts of five seasons in the Minor Leagues. Having turned 23 last August, he feels his best offensive days are still ahead of him.

"I think with any part of my game there is room for improvement. Offensively, I think we're in a good spot right now. One thing of the things that we talk about here is controlling the controllables," Hedges said.

"If I can put myself in a position to have more room for error, I think that will lead to better results. And I can be a little late or a little early, but still hit balls more squarely."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.