After entering his seventh season of professional baseball, Nashville Sounds' reliever Pat Venditte finally got his call to the big leagues on June 5. Now, after a shoulder strain curtailed his first big league stint, the 30-year-old switch pitcher is trying to make his way back to the bigs.
Venditte made four appearances for the Oakland A's before landing on the DL with a shoulder strain. Unfortunately for Venditte, the shoulder injury cost him six weeks on the disabled list and his spot in the big leagues. He was optioned back to Nashville after being activated off of the disabled list in early August.
Venditte had been waiting for an eternity to get the news he received after a Sounds' game in early June.
“I was caught a little off guard,” Vanditte said of learning that he was promoted to the big leagues. “You're expecting it at times, and at times you don't know, and it was one of those times of the season where I thought they were fine up in the big leagues and they weren't really looking for arms, but at the time they were, and it was my time.
“It's a surreal moment. It's still hard to put into words. I don't know if I've fully sat back and thought about it.”
Venditte, a 20th round draft pick by the New York Yankees in 2008, came to the A's organization as a minor league free agent in November. He made his major-league debut against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
“That's hard to put into words, too,” he said of his debut. “You work your whole life for something like that. When you're with a team as long as I was the Yankees, you always visualize yourself running out of the Yankees bullpen [and] what it's going to feel like running onto the field in Yankee Stadium and to hit the mound.“To do it at Fenway – I never visualized that, but I'm sure it's a tough place to top as far as a debut spot, and I couldn't be more grateful for that opportunity.”
Venditte said he did feel a bit of a difference between minor league baseball and the big stage.
“I'm a guy who's always worked off of nerves and adrenaline as it is, and there is a difference,” he said. “I'm not going to sit here and say there isn't a difference in adrenaline and nerves, but it's not that much different at the end of the day if you channel that into focusing in with your catcher and keeping your eye on the mitt.
“You kind of lose your surroundings. Fortunately, I was able to do that in the outings I had there.”
Indeed, he was able. Venditte appeared in four games, pitching 5.2 innings. In that span, he gave up no runs and just one hit. He also struck out four while walking two batters. It appeared he had finally “made it,” but then he strained his shoulder and was placed on the disabled list on June 12.
Venditte said it was quite a disappointment.
“Big time,” he said. “When you get called up, you want to do well – you want to get off to a good start and number two, you want to get the ball. And they were giving me the ball – I think four out of my first five games there. They were counting on me, and I was able to come in and help the team, which is what you work to do, and then for that [injury] to happen, it was another big setback.”
Venditte said he was also afraid.
“At the time, I thought it was maybe the same thing that happened a few years ago when I had to have surgery because it was the same pain that I was feeling,” he said. “Fortunately, after a couple of weeks it got better because two years ago or three years ago it never got better. That's how I could tell surgery wasn't needed, and thankfully that wasn't the case this time. It was very scary, though. There were some sleepless nights in there.”
While no surgery was required, it still has been a difficult road back, Venditte said.
“It's been tough to get back into the competition side of things more so than from a pain side,” he said. “It kind of got off to a slow start there with Stockton [during rehab appearances], but luckily those outings led me to be ready for [Triple-A]. My last couple [of outings] I felt a lot better compared to those a couple of weeks back. I'm finally starting to get back into the competition part of things and able to execute and get guys out.”
Venditte said he now feels like he is back to full health.
“I'm finally back to where I feel comfortable going both sides [with both arms] – back and forth – and able to execute pitches," Venditte said. "It took about two months to get back to there, but I'm here.
“It was a setback, but this game – you have to earn everything you get. There's no guarantees from one day to the next of where you're going to be or what your opportunities will be, so with the ups and downs I think it kind of prepares you for stuff like this.”
While Venditte hopes to play for the A's again, he said he did have a special moment with Nashville when the Sounds visited the Omaha Storm Chasers, as it was the first time the Omaha native got to pitch before his extended family as a professional.
“My parents, my wife, and my siblings come out to see me all the time throughout the year,” he said, “but aunts, uncles, and cousins that hadn't seen me pitch since college – they were able to come see me there in Omaha. It was the first time in about nine years that had happened.
“It was pretty special. I grew up going to Omaha Royals' games. My dad had seats for us right behind home plate in the first row – we had box seats. Most of my childhood was spent at Rosenblatt [Stadium] being a bat boy or sitting in the stands. They had the throwback uniforms on that night with the 'O' and the crown, so it brought back a lot of good memories, and it was nice to be home for a few days.”
But Venditte still has his eyes set on being back in Oakland. If he continues to be healthy the rest of this month, Venditte is a strong candidate to be part of an expanded A's roster in September. Until then, he will continue to do what he has always done — pitch for the next opportunity.