Switch-hitting is very hard
Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi did something yesterday that he’d never done in a big league game—he batted righthanded. And he hit a home run.
This is Choi’s fifth season in the majors and until now he’d always hit from the left side. His inability to hit lefthanded pitching mostly relegated him to platoon duty, though. In his first three seasons, he played 121 games but only had 31 plate appearances against lefties. The Rays gave Choi more opportunities against lefties last year, even starting him in 13 games against lefty starters, but he still struggled. He batted .210 against lefties (compared to .274 vs. righties) and only had five extra-base hits in 94 plate appearances.
So Choi decided to switch it up this year.
The Blue Jays started righty Thomas Hatch on Sunday in Tampa, but he was pulled after only 47 pitches when Choi came up in the third. Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo brought in lefty Anthony Kay to neutralize Choi. Choi had other ideas. He spun around and hit from the right side for the first time in his career. He struck out on four pitches.
Choi got his revenge later in the game, though. The first pitch he saw from Kay in the sixth he turned around and ripped 429 feet over the centerfield wall.
Choi had experimented with switch-hitting in the past. He used to take a few hacks from the right side in batting practice, according to the Tampa Bay Times, and he’d taken a few at-bats as a righty in the preseason. But the decision to bust it out in a real game was a surprise.
“I wasn’t really stressing about it too much,” Choi told reporters through a translator. “I didn’t want to tell Charlie (Montoyo) about our little secret. I wanted to keep that to myself. … (Sunday) I just decided. I felt pretty good, so why not?”
I tried switch-hitting one time in my baseball career. The day before a game, when I was about 13, I was playing wiffle ball at my friend Mike’s house and started batting righty as a goof. I hit the ball pretty well from the right side so Mike decided to tell our coach the next day that I was a better righthanded hitter than I was as a lefty. (That’s not a very high bar to clear. I was a terrible hitter.) The coach, probably assuming I couldn’t hit much worse, told me to bat righty in the game.
The thing I didn’t realize was how different the ball would look when I was standing on the other side of the plate. My depth perception was all off. I let a pitch go that was right down the middle. I swung at one about a foot outside. Then I whiffed at one in the dirt. The coach quickly told me to go back to hitting lefty. So I have all the respect in the world for Choi being able to do that in an MLB game.
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