Hedges shows hitting prowess early in spring

Catcher is set for prominent role with Padres after trade of Norris

Hedges shows hitting prowess early in spring

TEMPE, Ariz. -- In the third inning of Monday's game against the Angels, Austin Hedges dropped to a knee and fired a laser to first base, catching Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun napping.

That's the aspect of Hedges' game the Padres have come to expect by now.

Hedges sandwiched that defensive gem with an RBI single in the first and a rocket double in the fourth during San Diego's 5-3 loss. That's the aspect of Hedges' game the Padres wouldn't mind seeing more of.

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Nobody has ever doubted Hedges' defensive prowess. There are, however, a few question marks about his bat, though Hedges is certainly doing his best to answer them.

He opened Spring Training with four consecutive hits before a sixth-inning flyout on Monday. Through three Cactus League games, he's been the most impressive Padre.

"The timing's just been clean," Hedges said of his approach at the plate. "I feel like I can lay off on pitches. I think that was one of the biggest things for me last year. I chased a lot of pitches I shouldn't be swinging at."

Hedges credited his work with hitting coach Alan Zinter, who is in his second season with the Padres. Last year, the two worked to incorporate a leg kick into Hedges' swing.

The 24-year-old clearly responded well to the change. He spent the first 5 1/2 months of the 2016 season with Triple-A El Paso, where he hit .326/.353/.597 with 21 home runs and 82 RBIs in just 82 games.

"He's been really good," Padres manager Andy Green said. "He's aggressive, he's strong. Defensively, he's been outstanding, too."

During the offseason, the Padres traded catcher Derek Norris to Washington, clearing the way for Hedges in the Majors. His big league batting line isn't pretty, but he's yet to receive the consistent playing time he will get in 2017.

"I know it's only been two games," Hedges said of his Cactus League success. "But I feel like I've been disciplined about getting my pitch and being on time, putting a good swing on it."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.