This is a story that you’ve probably never heard before, unless you're a senior citizen.
The San Diego Padres, who have struggled to be relevant in recent years, have made a decision to attempt something that hasn’t been done in 75 years.
When catcher Christian Bethancourt took the mound in 1.2 innings of blowout games last season, he shocked the world by registering a mid-90s fastball and didn’t allow a single run.
Now it looks like the Padres plan on using Bethancourt, a catcher by trade, as a relief pitcher as well. In fact, they’ve been preparing him in Spring Training to serve in a hybrid role between the two positions, utilizing his versatility.
Usually at the MLB level, players stick to playing one position, where they learn all the intricacies and attempt to excel at all of the nuances that playing defense in the Majors offers. However, Bethancourt, who also played some outfield last season, is a jack of all trades.
What’s most shocking is how long it’s been since a player has done what Bethancourt will attempt to do this season.
The last player to appear in at least three games as both a pitcher and a catcher in the same season was Mike Ryba for the Red Sox in 1942, according to USA Today.
That’s 75 years ago if you were counting.
“He provides a unique versatility to our club,” Padres manager Andy Green told Ted Berg of USA Today. “Obviously if he’s pitching in the back end of our bullpen and becomes a seventh, eighth, or ninth inning guy, that’s going to take precedence over pinch-hit at-bats. But days he’s down, days he’s not capable of pitching, he’s able to catch and able to pinch-hit. He probably slots in as a third catcher, not the primary backup catcher, but there’s opportunity to use him there over the season as well.”
In the National League, there’s already a lot of late-game strategy involved because pitchers hit. This gives the Padres another option to use at their disposal.
It seems as though Bethancourt is pretty excited about his new role.
“The beginning of spring training, the first two or three weeks, I was doing a lot of catching,” Bethancourt said. “Then I was kind of resting from catching, doing more pitching drills to focus and get more familiar with the (pitcher’s fielding practice), bunt defense, just to get more familiar with the pitching actions. The Padres have managed me very well so that I don’t get tired doing one or the other, and so I’m able to have enough energy to pitch and catch at the same time.”
It seems as though it’s a work in progress, but Bethancourt, who hasn’t put together a fully-productive season at the MLB level yet in his career, is willing to do whatever he can to help the team win.
Last year, he hit .228 in 193 at-bats and hit six home runs while driving in 25 runs. Meanwhile, on the mound, he allowed just one hit while striking out one and walking three in his 1.2 innings of mop-up hurling.
“It’s something exciting, something I’m looking forward to,” Bethancourt noted. “I’m doing it to help the team any way I can — catching, pinch-hitter, pitching one inning, facing one batter coming in from the outfield. I like to be ready for any situation, and I feel like I’ve prepared myself well.”
Last season, San Diego went 68-94 and struggled all year. They haven’t won more than 77 games in any of the past six seasons.
It remains to be seen whether the versatility of their catcher-pitcher hybrid will help them get to the next level.
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