Bethancourt's outfield debut delayed

Padres backup catcher comes off bench, hits pinch-hit homer

May 21st, 2016

SAN DIEGO -- The debut of Christian Bethancourt, outfielder, has been placed on a temporary hold.

Before Friday's game against the Dodgers, the Padres initially announced a lineup with Bethancourt starting in right field -- giving Matt Kemp a breather. It would have been Bethancourt's first game at a position other than catcher at any professional level. (He signed with Atlanta at age 16.)

But after Bethancourt took some pregame fly balls in right field, manager Andy Green changed his mind, inserting Jose Pirela there instead. Bethancourt still made his presence felt, launching a go-ahead two-run homer as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning of Friday's 7-6 win. Nonetheless, he'll have to wait for his first outfield appearance.

"He hasn't had much opportunity to work there," Green said of Bethancourt. "He just needs more time out there. At some point in time, my ideal scenario is it's a 9-0 game somewhere down the line, and now we've got him out in left field to get his feet wet. He feels comfortable, catches a couple baseballs, relaxes."

Bethancourt, who has played exclusively catcher since his mid-teens, began taking fly balls in the outfield last weekend in Milwaukee. But for the most part, Bethancourt had been working in left field with very few reps in right -- a factor Green said went into his decision to make the late lineup switch.

So, why all the effort to get Bethancourt into the outfield in the first place? Well, the Padres have been impressed with his at-bats recently. He's hitting .350 (7-for-20) over the past two weeks, including a pair of mammoth homers.

"It's more a tribute to him forcing my hand [that] we're trying to find a creative way to get him in there," Green said. "He just hasn't had much experience there. Just giving it the eye test today, we felt it was better to go with Pirela."

In large part, Green's predicament is the result of having a pair of catchers on his roster who have much better splits against left-handed pitching than right. Essentially, Green doesn't want to remove Derek Norris' bat against a lefty like Scott Kazmir. But he wants to somehow find a way to add Bethancourt's.

It appears unlikely Bethancourt will make his debut Saturday against another Dodgers left-hander in Alex Wood.

Bethancourt said he walked into the clubhouse Friday, noticed his name in the lineup, and walked right past the screen without flinching. It wasn't until a second glance that he noticed "RF" next to his name.

"I didn't look at the position," Bethancourt said. "I just walked by the kitchen, and I'm like, 'Did I see right field next to my name?' Then I walked back and saw my name in right and was a little bit surprised."

He seemed upbeat about the idea -- specifically the notion of a chance to show off his cannon. He even quipped, "I can't wait to see someone running."

"Normally, every day in batting practice after I take some ground balls at third base, I'll go to left field or right field and shag some balls," Bethancourt said. "They're coming off the bat. The adrenaline is going to be different, because it's game adrenaline. It's completely different -- practice and a game."

Recently, Bethancourt has also spent time taking pregame grounders at third base.

Kemp didn't speak with media about his removal from the lineup. Green said it was strictly to get his right fielder a breather. Kemp had started 41 of the Padres 42 games this season, entering Friday.

"More than anything it's about getting Matt the day down," Green said. "He's grinding hard. He gives everything he has every single day. Sometimes, it's just good to take a step back."