Before Tuesday’s game at the Coliseum, the A’s held a news conference with Pat Venditte that started a few minutes before the scheduled time. The A’s wanted to make sure Venditte had enough time afterward to prepare for pregame stretch: Venditte must need more stretching time since he has two arms.
All the A’s pitchers have two arms, of course. But Venditte, the so-called switch pitcher, can and does pitch with both. When the 29-year-old made his anticipated major-league debut Friday in Boston, he became just the second pitcher in the modern era to throw with both arms in a big-league game and first since Greg Harris of the Montreal Expos on Sept. 28, 1995.
For Venditte, it had been a long time coming. Drafted by the New York Yankees in 2008, Venditte spent seven seasons in the Yankees’ system and said Tuesday he “can’t tell you how many times” he imagined making his debut and “what it’s going to be like running out of the Yankee Stadium bullpen.” Except in real life, it came at Fenway Park, home of the Yankees’ rivals, and with Venditte wearing the road gray uniform of the A’s.
“I guess you just never know how things are going to work out,” he said.
Venditte pitched two scoreless innings in the game. He recorded his final out by striking out Blake Swihart, a switch-hitting catcher. The rule governing the at-bat states Venditte had to first declare what arm he would throw with, at which point Swihart could choose from which side to hit. The rule is named after Venditte.
It was introduced after a 2008 minor-league game in which Venditte faced a switch hitter named Ralph Henriquez. Venditte kept switching his six-fingered glove, made special for him by Mizuno, from hand to hand. Henriquez kept walking from one batter’s box to the other. “The umpire put it to an end,” Venditte recalled. “The very next day, the rule came down.”
Still, the Swihart at-bat was not without a little confusion. Venditte said he faced Swihart several times in the minors and always pitched left-handed. But before the inning Friday, A’s manager Bob Melvin and pitching coach Curt Young instructed Venditte to face Swihart pitching right-handed.
“I completely forgot,” Venditte said. “And as I was walking onto the rubber, I was like, ‘Uh, oh, I better get this switched.’”
Venditte’s presence is as much a novelty for Melvin as anyone. Melvin often determines his relievers’ availability based on their recent workload. But Venditte’s recent workload may be, for example, more from the right side than the left, leaving his left arm relatively fresh. Melvin also typically juggles his bullpen to maximize the number of at-bats where an A’s reliever is facing an opposing hitter of the same handedness. With Venditte, that advantage is built in.
“To have a switch-pitcher to go through some lefts, some rights, or whatever it may be, is kind of unique to have,” Melvin said. “It’s kind of like having a new toy, one that nobody else has. So we’ll play it along accordingly. There’s really no set role for him right now. He’s just got to be ready for anything, and I know he is.”
Venditte said he has never found workload to be an issue, and the fact he throws sidearm from both sides helps him recover because, “I don’t know if that stress on the arm is as strenuous as guys who are over the top.” Venditte is naturally right-handed, and used to throw more over the top from his right side. But he said Gil Patterson, an instructor in the Yankees system, urged him to lower his arm slot.
.167 The batting average against Pat Venditte in 17 appearances at Triple-A Nashville this season
“I fought him quite a bit on it; I didn’t want to do it,” Venditte said. “But I look back, and I’m very grateful that he had me do that.”
At the time, Venditte said, he was having much more trouble retiring right-handed hitters than left-handers. He was better the first two months this season at Triple-A Nashville, where in 17 appearances he held all batters to a .167 average and compiled a 1.36 ERA. That led to the call last Thursday that he didn’t receive from the Yankees.
“Obviously the Yankees didn’t feel that I could help them over the course of the last few seasons,” Venditte said. “But at the same time, they gave me an opportunity to pitch and show what I can do to other organizations, and for that I’m grateful and glad Oakland has taken a chance on me and allowed me to show what I can do.”
Later Tuesday night, Venditte made his first major-league appearance in front of a home crowd, at least what remained of an announced 14,167 in the ninth inning. With the A’s trailing Texas 2-1, Venditte retired all three hitters he faced, helped by sliding catches from catcher Josh Phegley and left fielder Ben Zobrist.
All three Rangers batters were right-handed, so fans at the Coliseum will have to wait a little longer to witness the full Venditte spectacle. After that, it will be Venditte’s goal to make the novelty wear off.
“I’ve spent such a long time trying to get here,” he said. “It was extremely difficult and it’s going to be just as hard, if not harder, to stay. That really is where my focus is now. Now that I’m here I need to have consistent results, for a long period of time.”