PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — San Diego Padres catcher Austin Hedges expected to see Manny Machado make acrobatic plays at third base and hit clutch home runs. What Hedges has learned this spring about his new teammate is just how smart he is.
“Everybody knows he can do that,” Hedges said of Machado’s Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base. “I think people notice the things that are God-given but they don’t get to see what we get to see and that’s the work that he puts in and the way he studies the game, which is taking a very talented player and turning him into arguably the greatest player in this game right now.”
This is Machado’s first spring with the Padres after signing a $300 million, 10-year contract in February. He batted .297 with 37 homers and 107 RBIs last season.
“I played against him for years and his talent speaks for itself,” Padres second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “You understand what he’s capable of on the field, that he can impact the game in many different ways offensively, defensively, and he’s a smart baserunner.”
Machado, 26, also brings energy. When Fernando Tatis Jr. sprinted from first base to score in the sixth inning Friday night, Machado jumped out of the dugout to celebrate.
“He’s been a great teammate,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “I have every anticipation that he will be through all the years to come.”
Machado’s impact could be more important behind the scenes.
“The biggest impression he’s made on me is not what he does physically,” Hedges said. “It’s not been the great plays he’s made at third, the great at-bats he’s had but it’s the way he sees the game in slow motion. I’ve tried to go out of my way to have little conversations with him, whether it’s during games, before games, after games, just any time. It’s ‘Hey, what was your thought process through this play, in this at-bat?’
“You don’t do what he’s done consistently for that many years without really having a high baseball IQ. I’ve tried to let him walk me through some of his thought process and what gives him an advantage, which is his brain. He’s really, really smart. I don’t think people understand how smart he is.”
First baseman Eric Hosmer has talked baseball with Machado in the dugout as well. It’s been an education.
“That’s what makes him really valuable, especially as a teammate,” Hosmer said. “You’re picking his brain, you’re hearing what he says, you’re hearing the approach that he has. It’s opened a lot of guys’ eyes.”
On Friday, Machado deftly handled a grounder by the Colorado Rockies’ Mark Reynolds, picking it up with his bare hand and throwing Reynolds out.
“There are going to be some plays on the left side of the infield that a lot of us never thought could be done,” Hosmer said. “It’s impressive to watch. Everything is extremely smooth.”
On Saturday against the Los Angeles Angels, Machado doubled in the first inning and scored one out later on Franchy Cordero’s home run. Machado also flew out to center in the third and singled in the fourth.
In the Angels’ second, Machado nearly threw out Dustin Garneau, who hit a grounder down the third-base line. If teams could use replay in spring training, Green may have challenged the call.
Machado is heating up at the right time, going 5 for 13 in his last four games with three RBIs and his first homer for the Padres. San Diego has one more game in Peoria on Sunday against the Cubs, and then closes the exhibition season with two games against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on Monday and Tuesday.
The Manny Machado era officially begins next Thursday at Petco Park against the San Francisco Giants.
“You’ve always appreciated the way he plays against you but it’s different when you’re with guys every day, you see them practice, you see them prepare, you see the way they go about it,” Hosmer said. “It’s kind of a misconception — everyone thinks he’s naturally good and goes out there and makes it look easy. Getting to see all the work that goes in behind the scenes drives up that appreciation level you have as a player.”
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