On June 5, pitcher Pat Venditte earned a call up from the Triple-A Nashville Sounds to their parent club, the Oakland A’s. With Nashville, he made 17 appearances and started one game with 33 strikeouts in 33 innings. Framing that work was an overall ERA of 1.36 and a .167 batting average by opposing hitters.
While those marks would catch the attention of most major league teams, they aren’t the first things anyone will notice about the 30-year-old from Omaha, Neb. On the same day that he was called up, Venditte became the first pitcher in 20 years to face batters as both a right- and left-handed pitcher in a game.
Venditte’s arrival with the Oakland A’s is news, but it was his relatively short time with the Sounds that firmly established his major league credentials for the long-awaited opportunity. Before 2015, Venditte spent seven years in the Yankees’ organization. In November 2014 he signed with the A’s as a free agent and broke camp this March assigned to the Pacific Coast League’s Nashville Sounds.
“In spring training I talked with [Oakland A’s manager] Bob Melvin about how a guy like Pat could be used,” said Nashville’s manager Steve Scarsone.
“We had a game-by-game preparation. We had to keep an eye on the other clubs, and if they had switch hitters, we had to decide which side we’d prefer them to hit from,” he added.
A switch-hitter typically will choose the side of the plate opposite that of the pitcher’s throwing arm for the best view of his release and ball movement. Venditte tries to move switch-hitters to their weaker side of the plate if they stay with that approach. By switching throwing arms, Venditte can create favorable pitching matchups by throwing from the same side of the plate as a non switch-hitting batter.
Venditte wears a special six-fingered glove — custom made in Japan — which he can quickly switch from hand-to-hand as needed. His arrival in professional baseball in 2008 as a switch-pitcher was such a rarity that it prompted what’s been dubbed the Venditte Rule, a series of guidelines accounting for ambidextrous pitchers and their impact on switch-hitters’ batting decisions.
“There were a couple of times where we went against the numbers and more towards the situation,” said Scarsone. “Sometimes having a guy hit from the right side was better with a runner on first creating a hole. We’d switch him over to the right side and maybe get him to hit into a double play.”
While teams usually have pitchers on a pitch count, the Sounds did not have a per-arm pitch count for Venditte. Instead they kept track of pitch totals in aggregate.
Venditte was off to a good start with the big club, appearing in four games, working 5.2 innings and not allowing a run before he was sidelined with a sore right arm.
When asked if the Sounds did anything differently than Venditte’s past teams to get him major league-ready, Scarsone said they hadn’t. “He just did a great job for us.”
On the day Pat was told he was headed to the bigs, the news quickly made its way around the Sounds’ clubhouse. For most minor-leaguers, word of a teammate making the majors is bittersweet. That wasn’t the case with a player as well-regarded in the locker room as Venditte.
“To see the club — especially the rest of the bullpen — really rally around him and congratulate him, that’s a great indication of what kind of person, what kind of a competitor he showed himself to be in a short period of time. I think that might be as good of a testimony as to his character as any,” said Scarsone.