Christian Bethancourt hits a home run for the first time in six years

OAKLAND — As Christian Bethancourt headed to the box for his third game against Justin Verlander on Wednesday afternoon at the Coliseum, he shrewdly watched Astros wide receiver Martín Maldonado venture out for a visit to the mound with the star right-hander.

Seconds earlier, Elvis Andrus had ended Verlander’s no-hitter bid and shutout with two outs in the seventh on a game-tying RBI double, so the discussion between Houston’s teammates might have been a chance. to blow. Bethancourt, however, used the break in action to reflect on his previous shots.

Considering the five of seven pitches that were played for fastballs in his first two plate appearances, which resulted in a strikeout and a flyout, Bethancourt thought the mound meeting had to change the plan. attack on him this time. Bethancourt was expecting a break ball early, but Verlander hooked a first-pitch curveball and Bethancourt didn’t miss, bounding for a two-run homer – the 30-year-old catcher’s first Major League homer since on August 12, 2016 – which put the A’s ahead by two points.

“Hit a homer, especially against a guy who’s a future Hall of Famer and a great pitcher, it’s just a good feeling,” Bethancourt said. “I hit the ball hard but mostly on the ground. No chance to lift the ball. Today was a great feeling. »

The positive vibes produced by the Bethancourt outburst then crumbled for the A’s. Carrying a two-run lead into the ninth, the Oakland bullpen scored for four runs in the 5-4 loss to the A’s. Astros, who completed a three-game sweep. Considering how far Bethancourt has come in baseball since his last home run, this feel-good story is worth telling, regardless of the final score.

While the A’s are being rebuilt, their roster includes young players looking to establish themselves as big leaguers or veterans looking to prove they still have something in the tank. Bethancourt is somewhere in the middle.

A native of Panama City, Panama, Bethancourt, 16, signed with the Braves as an international free agent in 2008 and quickly blossomed, earning a berth in the 2012 All-Star Futures Game and rising to the Atlanta’s upper echelon. top rated prospects. Touted for his defense, including a one-arm cannon behind the plate, Bethancourt reached the major leagues in 2013 with the Braves. This promising career, however, quickly took a turn.

Facing offensive fights and injuries, Bethancourt was traded in December 2015 to the Padres, where most of his playing time came as backup. He converted to a two-way player in 2017, trying his hand at a reliever in addition to a receiver and outfielder, but the experience didn’t go well. Struggles through four relief appearances with San Diego led to a demotion to Triple-A and his eventual election to free agency at the end of the season.

After a minor league deal with the Brewers in 2018 came to nothing, despite the Triple-A All-Star Game that season, Bethancourt signed with the NC Dinos from the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) in December. 2018. Seven months later, he was given up. Then came the failed Minor League deals with the Phillies and Pirates of 2020-21.

Going into the offseason, Bethancourt was looking for an organization where he would have a legitimate chance to see Major League action. Achieving a minor league deal with the A’s in December 2021 that included a spring training invite, his impressive power in batting practice – described by A’s manager Mark Kotsay as a powerhouse ‘d ‘elite’ – left a good impression on big league staff. A strong start at home plate at Triple-A in Las Vegas led to his recall to Oakland on April 15.

After playing 33 games for the A’s starter on Wednesday, Bethancourt had made plenty of hard contact — ranking in the 80th percentile of Major League batting in max out speed — but had yet to translate that power to batting practice in one game. But in the series finale against the Astros, 2,118 days after his last home run, which came against the Rays as a member of the Padres, Bethancourt finally met another.

“About time,” A’s starting pitcher Cole Irvin said with a laugh. “Watching him take BP is great fun. He has a lot of power, so it’s time he got the first one. Hopefully this turns into a few more and gets it going.

It’s unclear where Bethancourt fits into Oakland’s long-term plans. Sean Murphy remains entrenched behind the plate as a regular starter, while veteran Stephen Vogt recovers from injury with Triple-A Las Vegas. If nothing else, Bethancourt’s persistence provided a special moment against a pitcher who one day will likely be enshrined among baseball’s immortality in Cooperstown.

“It’s obviously a big reward for him,” Kotsay said. “He is looking forward to this opportunity to be here. It was a big moment in the game, so there was a lot of excitement behind his teammates’ shot. I think everyone was really happy for Beth today.