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Friday, August 30, 2013
Victorino hitting better than all right

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- For Shane Victorino, going back to batting right-handed against right-handed pitchers is only doing what once came naturally.

Victorino was a latecomer to switch-hitting. It wasn't until he was 19 and already in his second season of pro ball, in Class A Yakima, Wash., that someone suggested he try batting from the left side, too, to take advantage of his speed. He abandoned that experiment after a half-season, but revisited it again two years later, in 2002, in Double-A, at the urging of hitting coach Gene Richards, a speedy outfielder for the San Diego Padres in the late '70s and early '80s.

Richards was a left-handed hitter.

"Gene Richards asked me if I'd ever switch-hit," Victorino told me in spring training. "I told him I did it for half a season. I said, 'Gene, it is way too frustrating.'

Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli
Shane Victorino, right, scored two runs Friday in Boston's 4-3 win over the White Sox and drove in a run for the fifth straight game.
"He said, 'I see you as a typical outfielder who's got speed but don't really have one aspect of your game that stands out other than speed. You're just a typical right-handed hitter. Why don't we try it?'"

First half of the season, batting exclusively right-handed in games while working in the cage on switch-hitting, Victorino made the Double-A All-Star team. But when the second half of the season began, Richards said it was time to make the switch.

"I thank Gene Richards all the time," he said this spring. "Looking back on it, I wouldn't do anything different.

"I'm 10 years into it, and I'm still learning some of the mechanics. I always do the drills I did when I first started, trying to [learn the mechanics of] that swing. It's still a work in progress for me 10 years later, eight years in the majors."

Victorino hasn't looked back since -- until it became a necessity to do so. Discomfort from a persistent hamstring condition that landed him on the DL early this season and requires constant treatment led him to try batting from the right side exclusively. He did it once early in the season, with a hit and a walk in three plate appearances, but made the switch full-time earlier this month. The results have been remarkable.

Batting right-handed against White Sox left-hander Hector Santiago on Friday night, Victorino walked, singled twice and scored twice. He grounded to short against right-hander Jake Petricka and flied to left against right-hander Matt Lindstrom.

In his last 11 games entering Friday's series-opening 4-3 victory against the White Sox, Victorino was batting .432 (19 for 44) with 5 doubles and 5 home runs. He leads the Sox in home runs this month with 7. Batting right-handed against right-handed pitchers, Victorino has posted a slash line of .306/.393/.531/.923, with 3 home runs in 56 plate appearances, with all three home runs coming this month. Batting from his customary left side this season, the slash line is .277/.320/.393/.713, with 3 home runs in 227 plate appearances.

"Hitting solely from the right-handed side of the plate of late, he's proven to himself that not only can he handle right-handed pitching but he's handled them with power," Sox manager John Farrell said Friday. "I think it just goes into the complete player that he's shown for us. Base-stealing capability, well above-average defender and a good offensive player."

Victorino is going so good from the right side, he has little incentive to revert to switch-hitting, at least for the time being -- especially since the hamstring remains an issue.

"He hasn't abandoned the switch-hitting situation in general," Farrell said, "but I think he feels so confident from the right-handed side of the plate, why mess with success at this point.

"The right-handed side, it's been interesting. The game against Arizona when he asked, 'Hey, if there's nobody on base how about me hitting right-handed right on right?' 'Have at it.' He hasn't looked back since."

Farrell said he has no problems with Victorino's right turn.

"If he keeps hitting like he is right now, no," he said. "He's proving that he's handling good right-handed pitching. But I don't think he, in his own mind, is at that point of abandoning the left side of the plate."

Switch-hitters are a small subset to begin with, comprising about 6 percent of all big league hitters since 1900. The last switch hitter to have as many at-bats hitting from the same side was Randy Winn, who had 66 plate appearances batting right-handed against right-handed pitchers in 2000.

Chuck Carr, a switch-hitting center fielder for the Florida Marlins, went all right-handed in 1995 for the same reason as Victorino, a bad hamstring -- but with disastrous results, batting just .177 against righties, compared to the .310 he was hitting from the left side.

So the Flyin' Hawaiian is riding an unusual wave. How long he rides it out may depend on how much longer the hits just keep on coming -- or until Gene Richards makes a call.

And what would Richards say?

Victorino, sitting in front of his locker Friday night, smiled.

"I don't know," he said. "I guess he would be happy, I would think."

Still grateful for what Richards did?

"Yeah, absolutely."

That hasn't changed?

"Nope, that hasn't changed."