MESA, Ariz. -- It’s a bit jarring to hear the phrase, “I had to get one of my arms loose,” when talking to a Major League pitcher, but with Pat Venditte, it’s an every-day occurrence, as it was in the Cactus League opener on Tuesday between Venditte’s Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants, a game that ended 9-4 in favor of the host A’s, who opened a renovated Hohokam Stadium to the public for the first time this spring.
“It’s not a gimmick,” says Athletics manager Bob Melvin. “The guy’s got pretty good stuff.”
Venditte knew from the age of three that he could throw a baseball with both hands. Though a natural right-hander, he’s always thrown with both arms, and when he arrived at Omaha (Neb.) Central, there were no sideways glances from the coaching staff. They knew what he could do, and they let him do it.
“When you start that young, you don’t even think about it,” Venditte said after his first outing on Tuesday for the Athletics. “It was never an issue. I went to my high school, the coach was full-on going to let me do that.”
For Venditte, pitching from both sides is as natural as pitching from one is to every other pitcher in camp this year. “It’s what I’ve got to do to get these guys out,” he said.
Venditte faced two batters on Tuesday, and retired both hitters, one from each side – including catching Giants slugger Brandon Belt looking at strike three from the port side.
“I was excited. I was pumped, and I saw that he got the out against the lefty, and a righty was coming up [the next inning],” said Marcus Semien, who made an even bigger debut for the A’s on Tuesday, going 3-for-3 with two home runs, an single and four RBIs for his hometown team. “I was looking forward to seeing him switch his glove, because I’d seen it last year in Scranton.”
Semien – a California alumnus – isn’t the only former Golden Bear to have seen Venditte in action. Josh Satin -- playing down the freeway for the Cincinnati Reds against the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday – was on the Brooklyn Cyclones team that faced Venditte when he was in short-season Single-A for the New York Yankees in 2008. For eight minutes, Venditte and a switch hitter went back and forth, until the umpire determined that the hitter needed to choose a side, first. According to Satin, the entire Cyclones dugout was laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation.
“That was a crazy one,” Venditte says. “It was the same type of situation, though, where that was my first outing there, and this was my first outing here. I was so focused on getting strike one, really, and getting off to a good start, here. That’s where my mind is.”
Since that night – in fact, the very next day -- the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation has added a rule: If a switch pitcher is facing a switch hitter, the pitcher must declare his side first to the batter, umpire and runner(s). The batter will then choose which side of the plate he will hit from. The rule also permits botht he batter and the pitcher to change positions once per at-bat. Venditte did not face that issue on Tuesday, but he surely will, if he makes the squad. If he does, he’s essentially a value-add for the A’s, as he essentially performs the functions of two relievers.
Warming up is also an adventure with Venditte. With the new pitch clock of 2:25, Venditte has to make sure he has enough time to heat up the proper appendage.
“I try to keep it pretty even, and today, I didn’t see the clock, because I tried to hustle in to get as many as I can, because that actually helps me, that extra time, to where there’s not set, to get eight pitches, so it’s nicer to be able to get another couple in there,” said Venditte, who threw eight warm-up tosses the first time he entered, and nine before facing Belt. “I just wanted to hustle up and get in there and get as many as I could in, before they had me start throwing.
“It’s something that I have to look at, because I don’t want to get into a situation where I don’t get one of my arms loose. Usually, when I switch over, that second arm that I’m pitching with is going to be the first hitter, so I want to make sure I have enough time to get a feel for my pitches. I guess it’s a little different.”
Venditte and the rest of the staff benefitted from a quick start by the A’s offense, which put up five runs in the first three innings, with Semien – who grew up in El Cerrito and went to Cal, helping the Bears to a College World Series berth in 2011, along with a player in the opposite dugout – Giants farmhand Mitch Delfino -- sending an 0-2 fastball over the fence in left for a two-run homer against Madison Bumgarner in the bottom of the first, and then driving in Craig Gentry with an RBI single to the left of the second base bag in the bottom of the second.
“Before we even went out to the bullpen, we had a 2-0 lead,” Venditte said. “It was nice for Marcus to get going, and the offense to get going, and the pitchers are throwing strikes, too. You want to get off to a good start every year, and it’s just Day One, but it’s nice to have that. It makes those first few weeks of spring training worthwhile.”
Once he started warming up in the third inning, Venditte knew that he would be facing Justin Maxwell, setting into motion an intricate dance that Venditte has to perform before going into a game.
“Coach told me that Maxwell was the first guy up, and I knew he was a righty, so I took an extra pitch in the bullpen right-handed, and then started my first few [warm-up pitches] left-handed, and then I went right-handed,” says Venditte.
The home plate umpire asked Melvin, as Melvin came out to make the pitching change, if he had any more guys like him, after Melvin plead for clemency, because he didn’t know which arm to use to call in Venditte.
“It’s fun,” Melvin said. “I know, for him, to be able to get in there, in the first game, too, and get an out right-handed and an out left-handed would be good for him.”
Venditte got Maxwell to ground out to short on the second pitch he saw, ending the top of the third and stranding Nori Aoki at third.
Venditte came out in the top of the fourth to face Belt, one of the more dangerous hitters in the San Francisco lineup. Venditte proceeded to fan Belt on three straight pitches. Not bad for a first day of work.
“Belt’s a guy that hangs in there really well against left-handers, so he’s a veteran guy, you’re probably looking to do some things as a young pitcher in big league camp, trying to make a name for yourself,” Melvin said. “It’s a little bit different, as far as the nerves go for him, but it looked like he belonged.”