Chris Gimenez is good with a quip, and he came up with a classic earlier this month. Following a game in which he homered twice, the 34-year-old journeyman told reporters, “Hopefully I’m one of the better hitting pitchers in the league.”
Gimenez is, of course, a catcher by trade — but the lines are getting blurred a bit. He’s started 24 games behind the dish for the Minnesota Twins this season, but he’s also taken the mound six times. That’s rarified air. Researching the subject requires interpretation — for instance, was Willie Smith an outfielder or a two-way player in 1963 and 1964? — but it could be reasonably argued that Gimenez is tied with Eddie Lake (1944) for the most pitching appearances in one season by a position player.
More certain is the fact that Gimenez is the first player both to catch and pitch in at least six games, in the same season, since the late 1800s. And his versatility doesn’t stop there. Gimenez has also appeared in five games at first base, and one each at third base and in left field.
Gimenez talked about his crappy fastball and about his hopes of one day following in the footsteps of Campy Campaneris, earlier this week.
Gimenez on not thinking like a pitcher when he’s on the mound: “I think I’ve pretty much stuck to the catching side of the thinking. I feel like that’s the more beneficial side, because chances are — at least hopefully — I’m going to catch more games than I’m going to pitch the rest of the year. But it is good to have the two somewhat different mindsets.
“Being a catcher, you need to think along the same lines as a pitcher, so you’re essentially thinking like a pitcher back there. But when I’m on the mound, it’s completely different, because I want guys to hit it. Pitchers are usually pitching for no contact or weak contact, and I’m trying to throw it down the middle. They can try to hit it as far as they want. I know that hitting is extremely difficult. You can tell that from my career average.
“I’m trying to throw it as slow as possible, and trying to be out there for the least amount of time possible. I know that the times I am out there, it’s not a good situation for our ball club. I’m out there to help — to give someone a break — but, while I’m very capable of doing that, I’m not a pitcher.”
On the perils of velocity: “I don’t care what my ERA is. As much as I might joke around about it, I really don’t. And slower is better. You see guys throw 100 and get hit around all the time. You don’t see too many guys who throw 60 and get hit around.
“I can throw harder than that. The first outing I ever had in the big leagues was in 2014, when I was with Texas, and it was against Anaheim. I came running in from the bullpen, and they were playing my walk-out music, as though I was hitting. The song was ‘Cold’ by Crossfade — a better hitting song than a pitching song, by the way — and I was all fired up.
“I tried to be a pitcher. I tried to throw as hard as I could — I hit 87 — and for the next week, I was pretty sure I needed both Tommy John and shoulder surgery. Pitching is a different motion, and the mound puts different stresses on your body. My back was killing me the next day. Basically, your back strap, your lat… I couldn’t even pick my arm up. I realized right then and there that if ever got another chance to pitch, I wasn’t going to do it that way again.
“Last year, with Cleveland, I had a chance to pitch two more times. I threw as slow as possible, and the next day, my arm didn’t hurt a lick. That was the new approach. I’m a position player first — I could be playing the next day — so why jeopardize myself?”
On throwing an 85-mph fastball in his last outing: “I got 0-2, and I tried to goose the catcher [Kevan Smith] from the White Sox. I tried to go up, but it was right down the middle, and he hit a single right up the middle. The one pitch I had some velo on, he hit. He took the ones that were 61 and 64. But if I could have located it up, I do think I had a chance to strike him out. I got a little greedy.
“My main goal — I joke around with the pitchers about this — is that I won’t walk anybody. I guarantee that. I just try to throw it down the middle, but I do change speeds. Before, I was just all about throwing slow, and now I’ll go from 65 to 75 to 85, and then back to 65. To me, it’s more about the speed differential than the different types of pitches, because I’m not going to throw a curveball or a changeup. I guess my changeup is the slower fastball.
“I’ve heard that I’ve thrown knuckleballs, and sometimes I’ve looked up on the Jumbotron at Target Field and it says knuckle curve. Then I feel bad when [Tyler] Duffey is throwing his actual knuckle curve harder than I throw my fastball. All I’m throwing is fastballs. The grip is always the same.”
On tinkering with a secret weapon: “[Bullpen coach] Eddie Guardado has been working with me on throwing a knuckleball, just to… I mean, a knuckleball is easy on your arm, and it’s a completely different look. Hitting a knuckleball is very difficult to do, let alone off a position player. It just might be that out pitch that I need, you know? I can get to two strikes, no problem — I don’t have that put-away.
“I’ve actually started growing out my fingernails, which I have a tendency to bite. Eddie has been helping me get the motion down. There’s no wrist movement at all — you want to keep your wrist really stiff — and it’s a different release point. A knuckleball motion is similar to throwing like a catcher. That’s another thing — I’m not trying to mechanically change how I throw the ball. I’m throwing my fastball like a catcher would throw it.
“I’d never really messed around with a knuckleball, but I do have a good cutter. I’ve yet to throw it on the mound, though. I don’t think I’m brave enough to do that, just in case I throw a crappy one and it gets hit 400 feet. Of course, that could happen with one of my crappy fastballs.”
On future outings and multiple innings: “There will probably be another time that happens. In some ways, I hope not, but I was told the record [for pitching appearances by a position player] is six, so seven is kind of my goal.
“I don’t think I’m on a pitch count. There was a situation this year where we had a 15-inning game, against Tampa Bay, and had we tied the game up, I was going in for the 16th. From there, it was going to be me for however long it took. I throw 60 mph, so it’s not like there’s a lot of effort that goes into it. That’s essentially how hard I throw it back to the pitcher from behind the plate, and it’s safe to say that I’ve done that a few times.”
On his conversations with catcher Jason Castro: “Castro tells me to not shake him off, so I definitely don’t do that. Of course, only throwing a fastball kind of helps me out there. I did get mad at him two outings ago. I gave up a two-run homer to Houston’s Marwin Gonzalez. I had him struck out the pitch before, but Castro dropped the foul tip — a very catchable foul tip. The next pitch, I gave up the homer, so had to give him a load of stuff on that one. It was a catchable foul tip. Trust me — I know all about that.”
On playing all nine positions in a game: “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something I’d love to do. And I don’t want to do it just to say I did it, I want to actually… my goal when I get put into these positions is to have the manager and coaching staff not — when the ball goes in the air to me, or on the ground to me — scream for their life. I can play these positions, and I take pride in that. If you need me in a pinch, I can absolutely play shortstop. Everybody played shortstop in Little League. Yeah, it’s completely different in the big leagues, but if you need me, I’m there.
“So yeah, playing all nine would be pretty cool. Not everybody does that. If you’re going to make your name — if somebody is going to remember you — why not have it be for something good, rather than for hitting .220?
“[Manager Paul Molitor] knows this. I’ve joked around about it with him. I’ve been, ‘Hey, once we’ve clinched a spot in the playoffs, I should play all nine positions, and I should get a start on the mound.’ I don’t think he likes the starter on the mound as much he likes potentially playing every position. Or maybe I could close. The bullpen guys… Brandon Kintzler wears me out about it. He’s like, ’Hey, man, do you want to close? It’s not as easy as you think.’ I’m like, ‘I know, dude.’”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.