The Rays' Ohtani? Bethancourt homers, hits 95 from mound

August 24th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays catcher homered and drove in three runs against the Angels on Tuesday night. He was behind the plate for another spectacular pitching performance. Then he moved to the mound to finish the night.

“Now,” Bethancourt said, “I know what it feels like to be Ohtani.”

Indeed. Shohei Ohtani went 1-for-3 as the Angels’ DH, but Bethancourt turned out to be the two-way star at Tropicana Field during the Rays’ 11-1 romp.

Bethancourt went deep for the third time in as many games, crushing a homer to center field to kickstart a six-run seventh inning, then capped the Rays’ 11-batter rally with a two-run single to left. He tied his career high with three RBIs, a feat he hadn’t accomplished in the Majors since Aug. 6, 2016.

“He's swinging the bat well,” manager Kevin Cash said.

Bethancourt also guided starter Corey Kluber and relievers Brooks Raley and JT Chargois through eight innings of one-run ball. It was the 10th time in their last 11 games that Rays pitchers allowed three runs or fewer, as they’ve fashioned a 1.62 ERA during that stretch.

“It's been really impressive the way he's kind of just seamlessly fit in as part of the team,” Kluber said. “Being a catcher and getting acclimated to a new staff midseason, I would imagine, can't be an easy thing to do, but I think he's done a great job of it.”

Finally, with the game well out of reach, Bethancourt relived his brief time as a reliever. Cash asked Bethancourt to pitch as the Rays ran up their largest margin of victory this season, and the catcher answered the call by touching 95 mph with his fastball and picking up a strikeout in a scoreless ninth inning.

“I was trying to get up to 100,” he said, “but I've got some work to do.”

“The first fastball was 93 [mph], so that kind of gave me a good ego check right away,” added Kluber, whose sinker topped out at 90.2 mph during his outing. “It was fun to watch.”

With all that Bethancourt did in one night, what was the best part for him?

“It has to be the winning,” he said.

The Rays have done a lot of that lately. They are 9-2 in their last 11 games and 13-6 over their last 19, pushing them to a season-high 12 games over .500, at 67-55. They maintained their ownership of the American League’s top Wild Card spot. And they may be firing on all cylinders at an ideal time, with their pitching and hitting finally coming together as the season’s stretch run looms.

“Hopefully, we're hitting our stride at the right time,” said Kluber, who allowed a homer to Mike Trout but nothing else over six innings. “That's obviously a goal all the time, but hopefully we keep it going.”

Nearly everyone contributed in Tampa Bay’s fourth straight victory. Manuel Margot had two hits and two RBIs. Yandy Díaz and Harold Ramírez each drove in a run, and Jose Siri scored twice. Randy Arozarena had three hits. Isaac Paredes homered, snapping a 71 at-bat drought. Taylor Walls had a two-run single in the Rays’ big inning.

But the star of the show was Bethancourt, the 30-year-old who came over from Oakland in a July 9 trade designed to help the Rays withstand the loss of power-hitting catcher Mike Zunino.

“What I try to do is hit the ball hard, and if they go, they go,” Bethancourt said. “It's just been great to have that feeling right now that the team is on a winning streak and just to help them any way I can to win ballgames.”

Cash recently informed Bethancourt he could be Tampa Bay’s emergency pitcher in lopsided games down the stretch given his track record. He has some history as a pitcher, of course. Five years ago, the Padres converted him into a reliever. But he didn’t care for the role, struggled on the mound and returned to life as a full-time position player.

“I enjoy my time more behind the plate and being able to get some hits sometimes,” Bethancourt said, “and hit a homer here and there.”

On Tuesday, Bethancourt became the fifth player this season to homer and pitch in the same game. The other four were Rays teammate Yu Chang, the Pirates’ Diego Castillo, the Giants’ Luis González … and, of course, Ohtani.

“I guess we've got our own two-way guy now,” Kluber said, grinning.