Anthony Santander had a hunch.
With so few left-handed pitchers to face in 2016, when Santander played in High-A in Cleveland’s organization, the few at-bats the switch hitter took from his natural right-handed side of the plate began to feel more unnatural. He swing timing was off, his movements felt clunky and he felt uncomfortable 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 strode to the plate and set up to hit left-handed, creating a left-on-left matchup he hadn’t seen in years — if ever. The first pitch, a fastball, he swung through. But the swing felt good, so he was encouraged.
And then the pitcher threw two sliders. Both swept off the plate, away from his flailing bat. He walked back to the dugout, strikeout under his belt, and he knew.
“You know what?” he thought. “I’m better off trying to hit right-handed.”
Since that moment, Santander has never stood in for an at-bat swinging 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 left-handers, Santander has made his mark with the Orioles from both sides of the plate.
On Monday, Santander hit home runs as a lefty and a righty — doing so for the first time since 2019. On Thursday afternoon, he stepped in as a right-hander and crushed a three-run, walk-off 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 on right-handed hitting all those years ago, when two sliders taught him that switch hitting was the best path forward.
“We’re here as a switch hitter,” Santander said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my career.”
As Santander developed as a prospect in Venezuela, the idea to become a switch hitter was first presented to him as a 15-year-old. He was intrigued, buying into the idea that major league teams would find that appealing.
His first step to learn to swing left-handed was in the cage, using a tee or taking soft toss and focusing on hitting to the opposite side of the field. After three weeks, he jumped to on-field batting practice. And after five weeks, Santander began trying to hit lefty in developmental games.
By the time he arrived in Low-A in Cleveland’s organization, an elbow injury prompted the club to make him a designated hitter for nearly the full season. They wanted Santander to develop further as a switch hitter, and those extra at-bats paid dividends, even though he missed fielding.
He saw an improvement in pitch recognition from either side of plate, developing an understanding for how pitchers wanted to attack him. He grew his power evenly. It has led him here, where his switch-hitting prowess helps an Orioles lineup with few left-handed hitters.
Last season, as Santander battled an ankle injury, his at-bats from the right side were affected. Each time he rotated, his ankle hurt, resulting in four homers from the right side compared with 14 from the left.
Now that he’s injury free, the results are evening out — he has four homers as a lefty and three as a righty through 39 games.
“I’ve always said I’m a switch hitter with power from both sides,” Santander said. “But last year, cause of the ankle, I wasn’t able to be on my leg, so it was soft.”
He showed Thursday his power isn’t soft any longer from the right side. But would Santander ever consider a left-on-left matchup in the future?
“Hell no,” he said. He learned his lesson in 2016. He didn’t need any reminding.