-- When A’s reliever Pat Venditte entered Thursday’s Cactus League game against the Chicago Cubs before the top of the third inning, it touched off a comical scene at home plate.
Venditte is the A’s reliever who can pitch with both arms. The first batter he faced in the third was Cubs leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler, a switch-hitter. So Venditte had to signal the arm he was going to throw with, after which Fowler was allowed to decide whether he wanted to hit right- or left-handed.
Venditte signaled with his left arm. Fowler opted to bat right-handed -- but first he had to switch helmets, since he’d grabbed one with a flap covering the wrong ear.
"It’s funny how he just catches people off-guard every time with that," said A’s catcher Luke Carlin. "Even the umpire had to make sure he had the rule down before (Fowler) came up."
The Venditte appearance has been great theater early in spring play, and his results have been good as well. The switch-pitcher has retired each of the five hitters he’s faced so far. In Thursday’s 2-2 tie, he faced the top of the Cubs’ order and retired Fowler, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro in order.
Venditte got Rizzo to fly out pitching left-handed, then got a flyout from Castro throwing right-handed.
"He gets it done," Carlin said. "He hits his spots, and his slider’s a good slider. It’s an interesting weapon. I don’t know how that would play out in the bullpen over the course of a season, but it definitely has its advantages."
Venditte, 29, said that for now he’s happy to be getting experience against major-league regulars. As Carlin indicated, Venditte does not light up the radar gun, and he joked that he tries not to look at those readings as a result. But so far, he has been effective.
"I don’t know how you can do much better," A’s manager Bob Melvin said, "unless you strike everybody out."
* Reliever Tyler Clippard and new left fielder Coco Crisp both made their Cactus League debuts. Clippard pitched a scoreless inning in the fourth, giving up two singles but getting out of the jam. "That’s the kind of stuff you want to get a feel for," Clippard said. "It’s almost a necessity to kind of go through that."
Carlin, who caught the first six innings of Thursday’s game, said it was the first time he’d caught Clippard and the right-hander is "filthy."
"Explosive fastball plus a changeup," Carlin said. "His changeup’s one of the better ones I’ve seen, and I’ve been blessed to see some good ones."
Crisp, meanwhile, made his first appearance in left field, where the A’s are planning to move him in 2015 after having him as their everyday center fielder most of the past five seasons. Crisp had just one defensive chance, a routine fly ball. "It was fine," he said.
Crisp went hitless in two at-bats.
* Josh Donaldson garnered a reputation for his defensive range at third base in Oakland. His replacement, Brett Lawrie, showed Thursday that he at least has reflexes to handle the hot corner.
Fowler led off the game against Barry Zito by yanking a sharp one-hopper to Lawrie, who speared it for the first out.
"Coming in hot, first play," Lawrie said.
"That’s what he’s able to do," Melvin said. "He’s a very active third baseman who’s going to make plays like that a lot."
* Melvin credited minor-league infielders Joey Wendle and Rangel Ravelo with having good at-bats late in the game. Wendle had a hit and a walk in two plate appearances and Ravelo drove in the game-tying run with a double in the eighth.
* Before the game, Melvin said that starting pitchers Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir are scheduled to make their Cactus League debuts next week. Gray will pitch on March 10 and Kazmir will start March 12. Gray faced live hitters at Hohokam Stadium before the A’s left to play the Cubs.
* Melvin also said catcher Josh Phegley, who has been away from the team for the birth of his daughter, is expected to rejoin them Friday and be in the lineup. The A’s play the Arizona Diamondbacks at 12:05 p.m. PT.