EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 12, 2013

Victorino talks switch hitting, defense

Christopher Smith
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — He has won three Gold Gloves, led the National League in triples twice, started in center field in the 2009 All-Star Game and has had 10 or more outfield assists three different seasons.

For what it’s worth, with his 91st career homer this past Monday, he passed Mike Lum (90) for the all-time lead among Hawaiian-born major leaguers. He already led Hawaiian natives in runs (630), hits (1,085), and stolen bases (204) at that point.

Meet Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino, better known to some as the “Flyin’ Hawaiian.”

Victorino, who was born in Wailuku, Hawaii, recently went one-on-one with Eagle-Tribune baseball reporter Christopher Smith.

Smitty: When did you become a switch hitter?

Victorino: I started when I was 22 in Double-A. Actually, I did it for a half season in Short Season-A. It was tough. So we gave up on it the next year in Single-A and went back to hitting right-handed (full-time). And then I got to Double-A, and my hitting coach asked if I had done it before. I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Would you want to go back?” I told him no, that it was frustrating and a lot of work. He was like, “We’ll work on it in the cage area for the first half of the season.”

We did that and second half of the season came and he was like, “You ready to hit?” I’m like, “Yeah.” He goes, “No, no. Are you ready to hit left-handed in the game?” And so be it. I ended up hitting left-handed in a game at 22 years old in Double-A.

Smitty: How long did it take for you to feel comfortable from the left side?

Victorino: It took three, four years before I started to feel somewhat comfortable. And to this day I’m still learning my swing every day. There’s times when I feel like I haven’t hit left-handed ever in my life where it’s like, “Wow, where did I lose my swing?” But again, concentrating every day, you try to feel comfortable and simplify the swing as much as I can from that side.

Smitty: Chipper Jones had a lifetime .303 average from the left side and .304 from the right. Being a switch hitter yourself, how remarkable is that?

Victorino: There’s probably only a select few that have done that. I’m trying to think of guys who had long, successful careers as switch hitters. Eddie Murray, Chipper Jones, to name a few in recent years. But it’s hard enough to hit from one side of the plate but having to work on two swings, it definitely takes a lot of work. You have to put a lot of time into it.

To have career numbers the same from both sides, it’s pretty impressive. I can’t say the same. Obviously, I’m a lot better from the right side.

Smitty: Do you practice more from the left side?

Victorino: There’s a lot more work from the left side than the right side every day. But you also try to balance as much as you can.

Sometimes if you’re feeling good from the left side and you don’t feel good from the right side you tend to take more that day (right-handed). And vice versa. I still feel like I’m working on my swing and still continuing to learn each and every year.

Smitty: What kind of work do you do during the offseason?

Victorino: As Lance Berkman put it one year to me, “How many times do you lose your swing in spring training?” I said, “Probably every other day.” So in the offseason I think it’s more about getting some repetition and getting your body into those kinds of movements. You try to perfect as much as you can but you don’t say, “This is the swing that’s going to take me to spring training” because you come into the season and you’re not seeing live pitching.

Smitty: Do you look at a lot of video?

Victorino: There’s video I look at to simplify the swing as much as I can to feel comfortable. But I don’t want to be too critical with the video. ... I try to just minimize and try to remember what I do when I’m swinging the bat well.

Smitty: You’ve won three Gold Gloves. What do you do to work on defense?

Victorino: I think understanding and getting your best jumps and understanding who is at the plate. Especially in today’s game there is so much with scouting reports.

(You must) know how guys are swinging the bat and know who’s on the mound. For me the success I’ve had, is having guys (pitchers) who pounded the zone — and understanding that if they are going to set up in, then they’re probably going to hit their spot.

The way they are preaching this year, if the catcher sets up outside, then most likely they’re going to throw outside so I know the ball’s probably going to be coming to right field.

Smitty: Did your strong arm come naturally?

Victorino: I think for me it’s working on it every day and strengthening my arm with band exercises just like a pitcher would. I think attacking the ball is important. But it’s about going out there and working on it and about preparing yourself every day. And I like to throw every four or five days to a base just to (get) my arm (prepared) and length into it and just to kind of feel the throw.

I always say I’m blessed by God with the abilities. But I guess sometimes the things that I do I am like “Wow. Did I really make that play?” Again, I don’t ever take it for granted. I think it’s things I work on every day.