A righthander launches a pitch to the plate, striking out a righthanded batter. Then, with a lefthanded batter due up, he puts his customized six-fingered glove on his right hand and prepares to deliver as a lefty.
No, this isn’t some baseball fantasy, it’s life for Oakland Athletics pitcher Pat Venditte, who was called up to the majors for the first time on Friday and pitched the final two innings of his team’s 4-2 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Venditte faced six batters and pitched from both sides. He gave up just one hit and struck out one.
The only other switch-pitcher in the modern era was former Red Sox Greg A. Harris, who pitched from both sides in a game in 1995 as a member of the Expos.
“He’s got weapons to face a righthanded hitter by pitching righthanded, and he’s got the weapons to face a lefthanded hitter when he’s pitching lefthanded,” Athletics pitching coach Curt Young said. “So that’s valuable for us.”
After arriving at Fenway Park just after first pitch thanks to a flight complication, Venditte made his debut in the bottom of the seventh. He said he felt comfortable in his first appearance.
“It was a special night,” Venditte said. “To have your debut at a place like Fenway and to finally just be a part of this team.”
When Venditte entered the game, he immediately put his ambidextrous skills on display. He started as a lefthander, facing the lefthanded Brock Holt. After getting Holt on a grounder, he switched to face Hanley Ramirez and Mike Napoli. Ramirez singled but Napoli grounded into a double play .
In the eighth inning, Venditte threw from the right side against Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Blake Swihart. He finished his debut by striking out Swihart swinging.
“That strikeout at the end? What a statement,” said Janet Venditte, Pat’s mother as she and the rest of his family waited outside of the Oakland clubhouse after the game.
Venditte’s parents, Pat Sr. and Janet, his wife, Erin, and his in-laws flew to Boston from the Midwest to see his debut.
Erin flew with Venditte from Nashville, where he was playing with the Triple A Sounds, to Boston. She said she started crying when they got the news last night that Venditte was called up.
“So exciting, we’ve been waiting for that for a long time,” Erin said. “He did awesome, so that was amazing to see.”
Venditte, 29, was drafted by the Yankees out of Creighton University in 2008. After seven years in the Yankees organization, the Athletics signed him to a minor league contract last November and invited him to spring training.
Venditte appeared in 11 spring games, tossing 12 innings and holding batters to a .222 average.
It was a chance for Venditte’s new coaches and teammates to get a feel for his unique talent.
“A lot of us pitchers got to talk to him and just pick his brain on how it’s like,” starter Jesse Chavez said. “It’s obviously double duty. And that’s what he said, he has to do double cardio, double lifts, things like that because you have to keep everything balanced.”
In 17 games with Nashville this year, Venditte had a 1.36 ERA, with 33 strikeouts in 33 innings.
Young said Venditte told him he feels about equal throwing all of his pitches from both sides.
“His breaking balls from both sides look exactly alike,” Young said. “And what he’s good at is spotting his fastball.”
To get ready before games, Venditte heads out early to warm up one arm with Athletics bullpen coach Scott Emerson. He gets the other arm ready later.
Manager Bob Melvin said Venditte warms up both ways in the bullpen and on the mound, too.
“It’s a little bit of a novelty, you’re curious to see if this really is functional, and all he did in spring training is perform for us,” Melvin said.
In 2008, a new rule was created to govern how Venditte and any future ambidextrous pitchers use their talent.
The main facet of the rule is that the pitcher must visibly show the umpire, batter, and any runners which arm he intends to use. Engaging the rubber with his glove on is considered confirmation of the pitcher’s decision.
Emerson said MLB lineup cards don’t have a column for a switch-pitcher. Venditte’s name is in blue, just like a switch-hitter. Typically, the names of lefthanded pitchers and batters are in red, while righties are in black.
Red Sox manager John Farrell pitched in the big leagues at the same time as Harris and got an up-close look at Venditte when he came on in the seventh Friday night.
“I have enough trouble throwing with one arm, let alone with two,” Farrell said before the game. “It’s unique and Venditte is even that much more unique because of his arm slots. You watch side-by-side pictures of him and it’s almost a mirror image on the other side of the body.”