Anthony Santander had a hunch.
With so few left-handed pitchers to face in 2016, when Santander was playing High-A in the Cleveland organization, the few at-bats the switch hitter took from his natural right-handed side of the plate began to feel less natural. His swing timing was off, his movements felt awkward and he felt awkward at the plate.
So he made a decision. With a left-handed pitcher on the mound, Santander surprised his manager and everyone else when he walked to the plate and prepared to bat left-handed, creating a left-on-left matchup he hadn’t seen in years, if ever. I had seen it once. . The first pitch, a fastball, went right through him. But the swing felt good, so he jumped on it.
And then the pitcher threw two sliders. They both walked off the plate, away from his waving bat. He returned to the bench, striking out to his credit, and he knew it.
“Did you know?” he thought. “I’m better off trying to hit right handed.”
Since that time, Santander has never replaced an at-bat from the same side as a left-handed pitcher. He learned his lesson, and by refocusing as a switch-hitter despite limited opportunities in the minor leagues to face lefties, Santander has made his mark with the Orioles from both sides of the plate.
On Monday, Santander homered as both a lefty and a righty for the first time since 2019. On Thursday afternoon, he stepped in as a righty and hit a three-run homer to lift the Orioles. over the New York Yankees, 9-6.
It’s a testament to Santander’s versatility, creating matchup problems for opposing teams. And it’s a reward for not giving up right-handed hitting all those years ago, when two sliders taught him switch-hitting was the best way to go.
“We’re here as switch hitters,” Santander said through team interpreter Brandon Quiñones. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my career.”
As Santander developed as a prospect in Venezuela, the idea of becoming a switch hitter first came to him when he was 15 years old. He was intrigued, accepting the idea that major league teams would find that appealing.
His first step in learning to swing left handed was in the cage, using a tee or pitching lightly and focusing on hitting the opposite side of the course. After three weeks, he jumped into batting practice on the field. And after five weeks, Santander began trying to hit the left-hander in development games.
When he reached Low-A in the Cleveland organization, an elbow injury led the club to make him a designated hitter for most of the season. They wanted Santander to develop more as a switch hitter, and those extra at-bats paid off, even though he missed fielding.
He saw an improvement in pitch recognition from either side of the plate, developing an understanding of how pitchers wanted to attack him. He grew the power of him evenly. He’s gotten it this far, where his switch-hitting prowess helps an Orioles lineup light on left-handed hitters.
Last season, as Santander battled an ankle injury, his at-bats from the right side suffered. Every time he rotated, he hurt his ankle, resulting in four home runs from the right side compared to 14 from the left.
Now that he’s injury-free, the results are even: He has four home runs left-handed and three right-handed in 39 games.
“I’ve always said I’m a switch hitter with power from both sides,” Santander said. “But last year, because of the ankle, I couldn’t stand on my leg, so it was soft.”
He showed on Thursday that his power is no longer smooth from the right side. But would Santander ever consider a left vs. left matchup in the future?
“Hell no,” he said. She learned her lesson in 2016. She didn’t need any reminders.