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A pitcher/catcher? Padres' Bethancourt tries for rare double
By JACK THOMPSON
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) When the San Diego Padres pitched a unique plan to Christian Bethancourt, he caught their drift.
And if it all works out, he might become a most rare multi-purpose player: Ever seen a pitcher/catcher?
"They came to me and asked me if I would agree to it," Bethancourt said. "I kind of liked the idea and we'll see how everything goes this year."
The 25-year-old catcher is getting regular work with the Padres pitchers this spring. San Diego hopes Bethancourt will play some outfield as well as pitching and catching - perhaps some or all of the above in the same game during the season.
He'll pitch for the first time in the Cactus League on Wednesday in one of the Padres' split-squad games.
"Most of his work has been on the mound, getting some at-bats here and there," manager Andy Green said Monday after Bethancourt, as the Padres' DH, went 0 for 1 with a walk against the Angels.
"It's a steep learning curve. It's a lot to do for one man. He's taken to it very well," Green added.
After coming through the Atlanta Braves' system, Bethancourt was traded to San Diego. The native of Panama hit .228 with six homers in 73 games in 2016.
But it was a pair of relief appearances last season that gave the Padres the idea. Bethancourt pitched 1 2-3 scoreless innings, walked three and hit a batter, and struck out one.
"I had the opportunity to get on the mound twice and it just happened," he said. "It wasn't something I was looking for but I have the opportunity to help my team in two different ways."
After a 68-94 season last year, the Padres are looking for any edge they can find. They approached Bethancourt about the move in the offseason.
"We watched him last year on the mound and we were intrigued by the arm strength," Green said. "Anybody that's watched him throw, that's a top arm behind the plate, there's tons of strength.
"He's got a lot of work to do, but we've seen a lot of catcher converts turn into very good pitchers," he said.
It's not known if Bethancourt would be the first regularly used pitcher/catcher in major league history, but it has been a long time if it ever has been done. In the 1930s, Ted Radcliffe did both in the Negro Leagues and was nicknamed "Double Duty" by Damon Runyon after the famed sportswriter witnessed a doubleheader in which Radcliffe pitched one game and caught the other.
Outfielder Jordan Schafer is also pitching this spring in his bid to make the St. Louis Cardinals. The last to pitch and play semi-regularly elsewhere in the field, Brooks Kieschnick, was a reliever-outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2003-04.
More common is the changeover happening in the minors. Kenley Jansen, once a minor league catcher, is now the all-time Dodger saves leader.
And the top pitcher in Padres' history began his professional career as a third baseman in the Cincinnati Reds' organization. Trevor Hoffman eventually found himself in the San Diego bullpen and fell five votes short of being elected to the Hall of Fame last month. He seems certain to be elected next year.
By then, Bethancourt may be on his way to his own niche in the game's history.
"Now I count myself as a pitcher," he said Monday. "My job is to go out there and try to get guys out."
"I told Andy he can use me anywhere he wants and I should be ready for it," he said.
Updated February 27, 2017