PEORIA, Ariz. -- Christian Bethancourt pitched in Little League. He pitched in Panama. He even pitched two mop-up innings for the Padres last season.Wednesday was different.During the Padres' 5-0 Cactus League victory over Oakland, Bethancourt pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning. He needed only 11 pitches -- seven of them strikes
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Christian Bethancourt pitched in Little League. He pitched in Panama. He even pitched two mop-up innings for the Padres last season.
Wednesday was different.
During the Padres' 5-0 Cactus League victory over Oakland, Bethancourt pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning. He needed only 11 pitches -- seven of them strikes -- to complete what was, for all intents and purposes, his debut as a pitcher.
Sure, Bethancourt has taken the mound before. But he did so as an out-of-position catcher more than anything else.
This spring, however, the Padres are attempting to convert him into a catcher/reliever hybrid, and Bethancourt's big league job might just hinge on his ability to pitch.
"I'm just here to make the team," Bethancourt said. "As far as I know, now my role is to be a utility guy, and my goal is to prepare for any situation."
Bethancourt's use of "utility guy" might be the understatement of the year. No player has regularly split time between pitching and another position since Brooks Kieschnick did so for Milwaukee in 2004.
Bethancourt, meanwhile, is looking to combine catching and pitching, the sport's two most demanding positions, while sprinkling in some time in the outfield and as a pinch-hitter.
Bethancourt's 96-mph fastball makes it easy to see why the Padres feel he's capable. His offspeed pitches are understandably behind, but he twisted off an impressive slider to start his matchup against A's shortstop Richie Martin.
"I almost smiled, because that's a pitch I've been working on this spring," said Bethancourt, who recently changed his grip to give the pitch more bend -- a stark contrast to the cutter-like movement it had early in camp.
After getting ahead of the first hitter, 0-2, Bethancourt threw one fastball to the backstop before he induced a ground ball to third base. He followed with two weak flyouts and calmly headed to the dugout as if he'd done so a thousand times.
"It's weird that it doesn't feel weird to me," Bethancourt said. "It just feels like I've done it before."
Said Padres skipper Andy Green: "It was a good first showing. ... I don't want to say I was shocked. But you honestly don't know what to expect when a guy has two professional innings in mop-up duty."
For the Padres, there's a legitimate purpose behind Bethancourt's transition. A method to their madness. The 25-year-old right-hander could potentially fill voids as an eighth reliever, a fifth outfielder and a backup catcher. On a roster with a middle-infield logjam and three Rule 5 Draft picks, that kind of versatility would be invaluable.
Of course, the move also gives Bethancourt a chance to revitalize his career in a bit of a different mold.
"He had had a hard time establishing himself as an everyday catcher and was going to be on the bubble as a backup catcher," Green said. "You look at a guy that's got raw talent and real ability and say, 'What can we do to put him in a position to maximize his ability?'
"This is intriguing. He's still got a long way to go to make the club in this capacity. But this was a great step."
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.