Before the first game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Clayton Richard and Austin Hedges were in the midst of struggling stretches.
Whereas Richard’s ERA ballooned from 4.20 on June 19 to 4.85 on June 30 due to two extremely horrible starts, Hedges’ batting average dropped from .222 on June 25 to .214 on July 4 with help from nine strikeouts in seven games and awful plate discipline. As such, the first game in Philly was as good as any to break out of the funk.
While Clayton Richard will never be confused for a valuable trade chip, he sure pitched like one to start the series. His two strikeouts may have been a disappointment, but his overall body of work was a neat spectacle. For one, he limited the number of walks he gave up. In his last two starts, Richard allowed six runners to get on base via the walk. This time, the non-strikeout artist walked only one batter. As a result of such control, Richard worked quickly through six innings and 18 outs, two more than his last two starts.
Otherwise, the ability to limit damage done by homers is another thing that helped the veteran to have a quality start. As a pitcher who relies primarily on a low-90s fastball, Clayton Richard will let hitters go deep. However, giving up nine runs over two games and nine innings pitched by way of the home run is never acceptable.
Therefore, Friday night was a great rebound as the veteran allowed just one run off the homer by Phillies’ first baseman, Tommy Joseph. Although Joseph did crush a 2-2 two-seamer off the Padres’ starter, Richard limited the run scoring to just one over his six innings of work.
Lastly, the greatest part of the Padres’ start was that he went back to an efficient ground-ball method. Eight of the 18 outs he induced were ground outs, signifying how weak contact was against him. Even when Tommy Joseph hit a double in the second inning, Richard limited hard contact by attacking hitters and getting a strikeout and then a ground out to end the opposition. Overall, Clayton Richard had standout control and command to plow through the Phillies’ lineup and allow the Padres’ hitters to win the game.
Besides Richard, Austin Hedges also bounced back in a big way. Although he hasn’t had good plate coverage in the last week or so, the first Padres-Phillies game of the season was different for the backstop. In the top of the second inning, Austin Hedges continued his bad habit of watching first pitch strikes. However, when the second pitch was thrown down the middle, in the same general area as the first, Hedges was aggressive. He ripped the 80 mph slider given to him by Nick Pivetta, even though off-speed pitches have thrown him off throughout his time in the majors, and blasted it over the porch in left field. This homer is special because it was the backstop’s first since June 3, making his bat in dire need of smashing something.
Although the Padre currently stands in second place, tied with Gary Sanchez, for the lead in home runs by catchers, such a power withdrawal must not become a normal occurrence. Thus, another round-tripper off Pivetta in the 5th was extremely good news. Again, the catcher was aggressive and able to reap rewards from doing so. Given an inside pitch, one that would have been called a ball, in a 1-2 count Hedges muscled up and drove the ball to right center for a dinger. His opposite field power on a pitch not easily taken the other way is a good signal that the Friar’s hard contact ability may be coming back.
As a result, the two home runs are obviously a good way to come out of a slump and begin a hot streak. However, he wasn’t done with driving in runs for the night as he lifted a fly ball to center during the ninth inning and allowed Cory Spangenberg to tag up from third and give the Padres a lead Brandon Maurer could lock down. Hopefully, this offensive performance is the beginning of a hot streak as the franchise catcher has a bright future on both sides of the plate. He just needs to swing at strikes and not go fishing, even though doing so allowed him to hit his second round-tripper and bring in Spangy in the eighth.
During the first game of three against the Philadelphia Phillies, both Clayton Richard and Austin Hedges broke out of slumps and, fingers crossed, started a positive step forward. While Richard is nothing more than a dependable trade piece, his pitching tonight might give possible suitors a reason to buy his consistency. He will not fetch a huge return for the Padres, but every solid outing that he has raises his value and raises the prospect return. Therefore, his performance was a nice step for the Friars’ future.
Additionally, Hedges’ breakout carries more significance to the team. Always lauded for his defense, the catcher needs to progress immensely to become a stellar starter. However, if Friday night means anything, it’s this: Austin Hedges has tremendous upside as he combines his gold glove defense with increasing controlled aggressiveness and exceptional power. The night may have just helped him start a path towards becoming a top-tier position two player.