MESA, Ariz. – Pat Venditte is like so many other non-roster pitchers across the major leagues, wearing a uniform number more suited for an offensive lineman and doing anything he can to impress A’s officials.
Yet Venditte can’t help but stand out when he takes the mound.
The 29-year-old Nebraska native is the extremely rare case of the switch pitcher. He’ll throw with his right hand against right-handed batters. Then when a lefty digs in at the plate, he’ll switch his ambidextrous glove to his other hand and throw from the left side.
Venditte, who signed a minor league deal with Oakland in the offseason, impressed Friday during the A’s first official workout for pitchers and catchers. The man with No. 74 on his back threw about 30 pitches as a left-hander, then he took a brief break and threw another bullpen session from the right side.
Double the work. Or, as A’s manager Bob Melvin humorously pointed out, twice the opportunity to make a good impression.
“He’s got good stuff too,” catcher Josh Phegley said. “He’s not just a gimmick.”
Venditte, who spent the previous seven seasons in the Yankees’ organization but has never cracked the majors, was bred to be a switch pitcher from the get-go. He’s a natural right-hander, but his father – also named Pat – started having him throw from the left side at age 3.
By the time he was 7 or 8, he realized “I was the weird kid pitching out there with both hands. It’s something you get used to. It’s something that I need to pitch at a high level. I need a left-on-left advantage, the right-on-right advantage.”
It led to a comical scene while he was pitching for low Single-A Staten Island in 2008. Venditte had a stand-off with switch hitter Ralph Henriquez. Whenever Venditte prepared to pitch from one side, Henriquez would switch to the other side of the batter’s box. The game came to a stand-still, and it led to a new rule:
A switch pitcher must declare which side he’ll pitch from to start an at-bat, then the batter must do the same. After one pitch is thrown, the pitcher and batter may switch sides one time per at-bat.
“I wish the rule was the other way around for the hitter to declare first,” Venditte said.
His ambidextrous glove has two thumb slots on it so he can comfortably slip it on either hand. It’s a custom-made Mizuno model, and the company has been making his gloves since he was 7.
“The first one came from a factory in Osaka, Japan,” Venditte said. “My dad traced my hand when I was 7, faxed it over, and they made my first glove based on that fax.”
Given that he’s a natural right-hander, it’s no surprise that Venditte grew up a more effective pitcher from the right side. He tore the labrum in his right shoulder in 2012 and thought about becoming a full-time lefty but says the Yankees encouraged him to keep throwing right-handed too.
He features a fastball, slider and changeup from both sides and snapped off some impressive breaking pitches in both of his throwing sessions Friday.
“I faced him last year in Triple A from the right side,” said Phegley, who played in the White Sox’s farm system last season. “I knew he could throw from both sides, but I had no idea he had three different arm slots from both sides. He’s over the top, (the three-quarters position), and down under. For somebody who throws from both sides to be that consistent, it’s pretty impressive.”
A’s bullpen coach Scott Emerson, a pitcher in his playing days, at one time experimented throwing with both hands, but says he only did it in high school scrimmages. He’s impressed most by Venditte’s balance.
“You’ve gotta have good coordination to do that kind of stuff,” Emerson said. “To be able to do it at the professional level is remarkable.”
Venditte, a 20th round draft pick of the Yankees in 2008, never got his big league shot with New York. It’ll be very tough to crack the A’s deep bullpen, but should he impress this spring, he could be an option at some point.
“It’s one thing to be able to just throw a ball with both hands, let alone throw it pretty similar,” Melvin said. “The arm action is fairly the same. He moves it around a little bit. He impressed me.”