ST. PETERSBURG — Christian Bethancourt had a pretty good night in the Rays’ 11-1 victory over the Angels on Tuesday, knocking in three runs with a homer and a single, catching a strong Corey Kluber start and pitching the ninth inning.
And he had a pretty good line afterward.
“Hit a homer, catch a great game and throw a scoreless inning,” he said. “Now I know what it feels like to be Ohtani.”
Though obviously not on the level of Angels star Shohei Ohtani, Bethancourt actually could emerge — after the trade of Brett Phillips, the self-proclaimed “American Shohei” — as the Rays’ next two-way contributor.
Manager Kevin Cash had recently talked with Bethancourt about using him occasionally on the mound in September, given his experience in 2017, when he was converted, unhappily, to pitching while in the Padres system.
Bethancourt hitting 95 mph and throwing 12 of his 16 pitches for strikes during the two-hit, one strikeout inning only validated the idea.
“I think we talked about late September,” Bethancourt said. “But I didn’t know it was going to be late August. Good thing it wasn’t a surprise that (Cash) was going to use me at some point.”
Bethancourt was one of several players, along with Randy Arozarena and Kluber, to have big nights for the Rays, who have won four straight and nine of 11, improved to a season-high 12 games over .500 at 67-55 and held on to the top spot in the American League wild-card race. They remained eight games behind the East-leading Yankees.
“We should feel good,” Cash said. “Randy’s doing his thing. He’s a big, big part of our team, our offense, us winning games. You’ve got to play well to win games, and guys are playing really, really well right now. And I think Randy’s at the top of the list offensively.”
Bethancourt, acquired in July from Oakland, delivered twice in the six-run, 11-batter seventh inning that broke the game open for the Rays, first homering in his third straight game, then blooping a two-run single.
As much as the Rays welcome his improving offense, they are more pleased with the work he has done behind the plate, especially given the degree of difficulty in learning to handle the Tampa Bay pitchers on the fly.
“I think he’s been kind of what the front office thought when they acquired him,” Cash said. “I’m really impressed (by) the way that he’s come in and worked with our pitching staff.”
Kluber held an aggressive Angels team to the one run (a Mike Trout homer off the C-ring catwalk) and five hits over an efficient six innings (78 pitches total, two innings in single digits), with first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 23 hitters.
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“The story of the game for me was ‘Klubes,’ how well he threw the ball,” Cash said. “Just gave up the solo homer to get us to that point, bought our offense some time, and then saw the offense kind of really come to life.”
Arozarena had a big part in that again, with a three-hit night and his AL-leading 19th RBI of August. Others lending a hand included Manuel Margot, who drove in the first run; Isaac Paredes, who hit his first homer since July 26 (ending a streak of 71 at-bats without); and Taylor Walls, who rapped a two-run single.
But no one’s night could match that of Bethancourt, who said it was his most interesting game in the majors.
“I guess we’ve got our own two-way guy now,” Kluber said. “(His) first fastball was 93, so that kind of gave me a good ego check right away. It was fun to watch.”
Bethancourt said his only regret was not throwing as hard as reliever Pete Fairbanks: “I was trying to get up to 100 (mph), but I’ve got some work to do.”
The best part, though, was obvious.
“It has to be the winning,” he said. “To win the ballgame, it doesn’t matter who hits the homer. Randy got three hits, ‘Klubes’ throws six (innings) and one (run), and a lot of great performances from a lot of individuals. I’ll take the win any day.”
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.
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