Yankees minor-leaguer Pat Venditte is one phone call away from his dream of making it to the major leagues. But there are two sides to this pitcher's story. If that call comes, Venditte will become the first man in major-league history to be promoted as an ambidextrous pitcher.
There have been countless switch hitters in the game's history, of course, but there has never been a pitcher to make it to the majors who could routinely throw with both arms. And Venditte is determined to prove that his pitching style is not a gimmick. He believes he can get big-league hitters out -- with either hand -- if given the chance.
"Any time you're different in this game, there's a level of doubt that comes along with it," he said. "You overcome that with good performance."
Venditte's performance in the minor leagues shows he could be ready for the call. He has a 2.65 ERA and has held opposing hitters to a .217 batting average while playing in Double-A and Triple-A this season.
Still, the injury-depleted Yankees have reached into the minor leagues for a pitcher 25 times this season but have never called on the 29-year-old switch pitcher.
General manager Brian Cashman said last week that Venditte's name has come up lately in the team's conversations when a reliever was needed.
"I visualize myself coming out of that bullpen in New York every day," Venditte said. "It's a thought that crosses my mind, and it would be crazy if it didn't.''
The thought also has caused baseball to draft special rules for him right from the start.
When Venditte faced a switch hitter in his pro debut for the Staten Island Yankees in 2008, a cat-and-mouse game ensued. When Venditte prepared to throw righthanded, the hitter set up as a lefthanded batter. So Venditte switched to his left hand, and the hitter switched as well.
This went on for several minutes before the umpires stepped in and decided for them.
Since then, Major League Baseball has adopted "Rule 8.01(f)" -- also known as "The Pat Venditte Rule."
It says the pitcher "must indicate visually" to the umpire, batter and runners which hand he's going to pitch with "by wearing his glove on the other hand while touching the pitcher's plate."
From that point, there is no switching allowed.
"The switch-pitching part, it doesn't play into my thoughts because that's what I do," said Venditte, who uses a specially made glove that can be worn on either hand. "That's how I got here and it's how I hopefully will take that next step."
The only known time that switch pitching was attempted in the modern history of the game was in 1995, when righthander Greg A. Harris -- a former Met -- was with the Expos and in the second-to-last game of his career.
Harris, 39, entered in the ninth inning with the Expos trailing 9-3 in what became a 9-7 loss. Pitching righthanded, he got Reggie Sanders to ground out. He then threw with his left arm to two hitters, walking Hal Morris on four pitches and retiring Eddie Taubensee on a dribbler in front of the plate. Harris then went back to throwing righthanded and got Bret Boone on a comebacker. Harris' glove is in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.A natural righty
Venditte, who is from Omaha, Nebraska, is naturally righthanded, but he said his father, Pat Venditte Sr., began teaching him how to throw with both arms as early as age 3. By now, Venditte said, throwing lefty feels natural to him.
Venditte Sr. built his son a batting cage in the backyard. One day while they were playing, he had a thought.
"The idea just came to me," said Venditte Sr., 69. "I thought, 'Why can't somebody throw with both arms? What precludes someone from doing that?' "
Venditte Sr. said they just practiced everything twice, righthanded throws and lefthanded throws.
"It's something I think a lot of kids could do if they worked on it,'' he said, "but they need to spend the time."
Role may be long relief
Far from overpowering, Venditte attacks hitters with mid-80s fastballs and looping sliders from his dual righthanded and lefthanded sidearm deliveries.
Cashman said the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre coaching staff recently was instructed to use Venditte in long relief -- as opposed to the more conventional situational outings for a specialist -- to build up both arms for a possible Bronx arrival.
"I need to be ready to help them win with whatever they need," Venditte said last week. "Whether that call is going to come or not, I don't know. But I just want to be ready.''
Venditte had surgery in 2012 to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. While most pitchers would be forced to miss significant time, Venditte was able to continue pitching with his left arm -- but he was not the same pitcher. He made four appearances in the World Baseball Classic for Italy, finishing with an 0-1 record and a 9.00 ERA. He appeared briefly for the Trenton Thunder in the Double-A playoffs and then was hit hard in a brief winter ball stint in Mexico.
He was not invited to the Yankees' major-league camp in spring training this year and was relegated to a minor-league camp filled with players nearly 10 years younger.
The rejection stung, Venditte said, leading to a spring training that, in his mind, had the look and feel of a last-gasp audition.
Assigned to Double-A Trenton to start the season, "I knew I had to get off to a good start," Venditte said. With both arms healthy, he did just that, posting a 0.82 ERA and 0.73 WHIP in 22 innings. That earned him an early-summer promotion to Triple-A, and he has been effective in his new long-relief role. He has a 3.52 ERA in 46 innings.
Venditte used to throw overhand from the right side and sidearm from the left, but minor-league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said he felt he needed more deception in his delivery after shoulder surgery sapped him of some velocity. So now Venditte is a double sidearmer.
"The only way we're going to know for sure whether his stuff will play in the big leagues,'' Patterson said, "is to go put him there."
If Venditte makes it to the majors, he might even get a chance to hit.
He is, of course, a switch hitter.