Switch-hitting batters are fairly rare in baseball but a handful of them remain.
But switch-pitchers may be the rarest of all baseball skill sets.
And in Alabama, a switch-pitcher accomplished one of the rarest feats in the sport in the regional to allowing defending American Legion World Series champion Troy Post 70 to make a return to the ALWS in Shelby, N.C.
Jake Johnson, a recent graduate of Headland High School, threw a no-hitter in a 9-0 victory over Paragould (Ark.) Post 16 in the Mid-South Regional on Aug. 6 in Pelham, Ala.
Starting the game as a right-hander, Johnson went two innings before a 30-minute rain delay. Two innings later, another rain delay lasted more than an hour.
Even as Johnson was at 45 pitches, Post 70 coach Ross Hixon told him he’d have to switch to pitching left-handed as he’d done previously in the season if he wanted to finish the game.
Johnson did that and went three more no-hit innings to send Troy to its second straight ALWS.
“I’ll go on record and say I’ll probably never have another player like this,” Hixon said of his switch-pitching standout.
And while Johnson writes left-handed and kicks a football left-footed, he first played baseball by throwing right-handed until an injury in his freshman year of high school altered those plans.
“I had an ulnar transposition,” Johnson said. “It’s where your bones get too crowded and the nerve won’t fit in there.
“So I had that happen and it was a 16-week recovery. I was OK and I was pushing to go back to recovery and it regressed.”
The problem kept Johnson from pitching in his traditional right-handed style for two years.
But it also gave him a chance to experiment.
“I just started trying to throw lefty,” Johnson said. “I started playing wall ball with myself. And then I got where I could play outfield as a lefty. It wasn’t pretty but it was good enough. And still my right arm was messed up.”
Determined to figure out a way to get on the field, Johnson took the mound as a left-handed pitcher for Troy’s 17-and-under American Legion Baseball team in 2022.
“Last summer was the first time I ever got on the mound left-handed,” Johnson said. “It was throwing about 70-78 (mph). I had a lot of movement, but it wasn’t very pretty.
“Then in my senior year, I was healthy enough to go back to pitching right-handed and it worked really well. I was up to 85 (mph) before the season and I climbed up to 90 (mph) by the end of the year. And then I pitched some as a lefty in high school.”
Hixon marveled at Johnson’s determination to find a way to get on the baseball field.
“He’s a headstrong, goal-oriented person and he said, ‘I’m going to figure out how to pitch left-handed,’” Hixon said. “So what started out as a gimmick that people thought was kind of cool has turned into something where he can compete with both arms.
“Now he’s predominantly right-handed but this summer, I’ve let him choose. I’ll say, ‘I’m comfortable and trust whatever you choose.’ And he’s figured out how to throw multiple pitches from both the right and left arms. That causes a lot of problems.
“Hitting’s hard enough facing one guy with two pitches. He’s a guy who can throw left and right with three pitches, so he’s got six pitches. It’s very unique.”
This past summer, a strained right shoulder caused him to focus more on his left-handed pitching, and he threw two no-hitters before Troy won the Alabama state tournament to advance to the Mid-South Regional.
He picked up a win throwing left-handed in relief in Troy’s regional opener, a 7-5, 10-inning victory over Lafayette (La.) Post 241.
Four days later, Johnson threw the no-hitter even as he followed baseball protocol through the seven innings and both rain delays to accomplish the feat.
“They all gave me looks,” Johnson said of his teammates during the no-hitter. “But I was like, ‘Don’t say it! Don’t say it!’”
This fall, Johnson is considered more of a right-handed pitching prospect but will get the chance to show his new coaches at Dothan-Wallace Community College.
“At first, it was no doubt that I was a right-handed pitcher for them,” Johnson said. “And then it was, ‘Well, we’ll see about lefty’ and we’ve decided to see what it looks like both pitching both ways.”