Pat Venditte was still playing High-A in the Yankees’ Minor League system when sluggers Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson came to see him perform mop-up duty during a meaningless spring training game four years ago. Even from the mound, he could hear their appraisal: “This kid can’t be for real.”
The skepticism is reasonable enough. Venditte is baseball’s only switch-pitcher, meaning that he throws right or left depending on who’s standing in the batter’s box. The rule that gives switch hitters preference in choosing a side, adopted in 2008, is commonly called “The Pat Venditte Rule” because it only exists because Pat Venditte exists. There have been other “switch pitchers” - Gregg Harris, a career righty, spun around in the penultimate performance of his career – no one has ever made ambidextrousness the core of their game before. Venditte has done just that, admitting openly that he’s not good enough pitching exclusively from one side to make the show. Even so, it took him a long time to make it up. He’s just signed with Oakland after seven years in the New York farm system.
“I could see by the midpoint of my Minor League career that promoting me wasn’t in the cards for the Yankees,” Venditte said over the phone from his family’s home in the Little Italy section of Omaha, which, yes, has a Little Italy. “Everything I was doing up to this point was for when I hit free agency. I wanted to have put up good enough numbers over the years to garner some interest.”
Venditte’s 2.46 ERA and 431 strikeouts in 384.66 innings caught the eye of the A’s last week, earning him an invite to spring training. Most ballplayers (Swisher included) go from Oakland to New York, not the other way around, but this 29-year-old isn’t most ballplayers. He’s the guy icing both of his arms while he waits for spring.
He spoke to Maxim about his future in the league and being one of a kind.
When did you start switch-pitching?
It was all through Little League, starting when I was three if you can believe that. I’m a natural right-hander, and my dad had the idea that if there are switch-hitters, why can’t there be switch-pitchers? To be honest, it took a long time to hone everything, and I really didn’t see any great results until my sophomore or junior year of college.
Your Creighton coach was quoted as saying he didn’t want you creating a “circus” when you walked on the team.
Yeah, and rightfully so. I had an awful freshman year. I threw maybe three innings (as a right-hander) and gave up multiple runs to the tune of about a 15.00 ERA. So the reservations were there for a reason. I wasn’t performing well. Then I dropped down sidearm left-handed, and that changed everything.
Have you experienced other doubters along the way?
That’s the one thing that’s never changed. It’s always weird at first, but then, by the second time they see it, people just kind of forget about it.
How long have you had your one-of-a-kind, six-fingered mitt?
I think I was 7 years old [when I got it]. My dad got in touch with Mizuno – Greg Harris had already had the two-handed glove – and my dad talked to the head people in Osaka, Japan and all they asked him to do was trace my hand. So we traced my hand and faxed it to their factory. About two months later, I had my first ambidextrous glove, and that’s all I’ve used ever since.
What is your repertoire like from both sides?
Left-handed, I throw a fastball, slider and changeup, pretty much all sidearm. And then right-handed, I mix in some different looks. I throw the same three pitches sidearm, and I also mix in a fastball over the top as well as a curveball. That’s where I’ve found success.
Do you do anything else with both hands?
I keep a left-handed club in my golf bag if I’m behind a tree, but that’s about it.
When people pursue this line of questioning, it might make switch-pitching seem like a gimmick. Is that a source of frustration for you? Do you just want to be considered a pitcher, not a switch-pitcher?
It’s not a frustration at all because, if I go out and take care of the things I’m supposed to take care of, then I’m going to have my opportunities. What I’ve done to this point has gotten me this opportunity coming here in a couple months, and I look forward to competing at the highest level.
Did you have suspicions of why the Yankees wouldn’t call you up from the Minors?
I’m sure there is a list of things that they want their Major League pitchers to have, and I know that my velocity isn’t up there with most of the guys that they promote. I would say that was probably the biggest factor; not to say there weren’t others.
Did you ever wonder whether switch-pitching held you back and whether your first-of-your-kind novelty wouldn’t be welcomed into the traditional, old boys club of the Majors?
Without a doubt. Anytime you do something against the grain, it’s going to cause some red flags, but that’s where performance comes in and trumps all.
And you’re claiming that you’re the first guy to do this for real.
The guys previous were dominant with one side, but had the ability to throw with the other arm as well. I don’t have overpowering stuff from either side, so I need that matchup advantage on the hitter. I wouldn’t be in the place I’m at without switch-pitching. And it does set me apart in a game where everyone else is pretty much the same.
Photos by Charlie Riedel / AP Photo