DUNEDIN, Fla. – Jose Bautista’s teammates were probably the first ones to notice when he started taking left-handed swings in batting practice late last season.
“I don’t know why he’s doing it, but I’m sure there’s a reason behind it,” Josh Donaldson said. “Why not?”
Bautista, a right-handed hitter, started taking occasional left-handed swings nearly two years ago. He could make contact right away, but by the end of the 2015 season he had improved and started taking some cuts on the field. Now he’s actually hitting a few home runs from the left side.
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“He rakes left-handed," Chris Colabello said. "He can hit a ball further than I can right-handed when he's batting left-handed. He’s good.”
For some players, batting left-handed would be nothing more than a diversion intended to pass the time. But Bautista's an extremely purposeful player when it comes to conditioning. As Donaldson guessed, Bautista has a reason for taking swings from both sides: it helps him balance his core muscles and hips and may even help prevent injuries.
"It’s just a way to balance your body out, not to get too strong or dominant in the rotation or movement on one side of the body,” Bautista said. "You just try to unwind yourself.”
As a right-handed hitter, he’s constantly rotating from right to left. Taking some swings left-handed helps even things out, especially if he starts feeling tense.
"Your body’s bound to get tight in that direction,” he said. "In order to unwind, you have to do the same thing the other way.”
Bautista got the idea from his strength coach, who also suggested throwing left-handed. He threw left-handed from a short distance early last off-season, but kept gravitating toward the batting cage. “Instead of throwing lefty, I started hitting lefty.”
At first, batting left-handed felt a little unnatural. He had tried switch-hitting while 8-10 years old, but has hit exclusively from the right side for his entire professional career.
“It’s definitely not easy,” Bautista said. "I felt uncoordinated; I felt like I was not doing it right.”
But even before he started going deep from the left side, there was something liberating about the challenge. Now that he’s hitting a few homers, it’s as fun as it looks.
"I was just having fun with it and I still am,” Bautista said. "It’s a different approach. It’s not a focused job where you have to do it right every time. It’s not the intensity of that effort and looking for an outcome, it’s more fun, kind of like when you’re a kid.”
Just as importantly, Bautista feels the benefits of batting left-handed. He says it helps him physically and that he intends to continue. Which makes you wonder: what if he keeps improving? Is there any chance that he’d try batting left-handed in a game?
“No, I don’t think so,” Bautista said. "Unless I just completely become an expert at it in the next two years, I don’t see that happening. I don’t expect that and I’m not going to suggest it.”
With a career OPS of .856 against right-handed pitching, there’s no reason to contemplate anything drastic.
“He’s just fine righty,” Colabello said. "I don’t think he needs to worry about switching. My dad always used to say 'Learn how to hit one way first.' He’s got that figured out pretty good.”
There’s no arguing that point just a few months after Bautista capped off another 40-homer season with an exceptional post-season. As long as those left-handed swings can help him stay balanced and healthy, they’ll have served their purpose.