by Tyler Handlan
PHOENIX — Pat Venditte generates a sense of intrigue every time he steps on a mound.
Venditte, the ambidextrous pitcher, spent time with the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners last season.
Seattle traded Venditte, 31, to Philadelphia during spring training for outfielder Joey Curletta. This week, the Phillies sent Venditte to the minors. If the Phillies summon Venditte to the majors, the intrigue about him will grow, because he will be pitching in the National League for the first time.
With the pitcher in the batting order, the NL features far more pinch-hitting than the AL, which uses the DH to bat for pitcher.
When an NL manager decides to send up a left-handed or right-handed pinch-hitter, he often does so based on whether the pitcher is right-handed or left-handed. With Venditte, the manager can’t make this choice — because Venditte can pitch right-handed to a right-handed batter and left-handed to a left-handed batter.
“You just have to pick the guy who you think is going to be the better matchup,” Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Either the righty on the left or the lefty on the right.”
Maddon said he’d turn to analytics for assistance.
“I’d have to look at the splits – but I’d imagine he’s probably pretty good on the opposite side guy, too,” Maddon said. “He’s unique. How many guys can do that kind of stuff?”
When he debuted with Oakland in 2015, Venditte became the first true ambidextrous pitcher in the big leagues since the 19th Century.
Colorado manager Bud Black said: “You’re always trying to get the most favorable matchup. And sometimes you just can’t, you just can’t sometimes.”
Under a rule created specifically for him, Venditte must indicate whether he’ll pitch left-handed or right-handed to a batter before the at-bat begins. He can’t switch pitching hands during the batter’s at-bat.
So a switch-hitter, if available, would seem the best percentage move as a pinch-hitter. Once Venditte declares which way he’s throwing, the switch-hitter can hit from the opposite side — left-handed against the right-handed Venditte, or right-handed against the left-handed Venditte.
Here is how the American League did against Venditte last season:
Right-handed batters: They hit .302 against him in 43 official at-bats.
Left-handed batters: They hit .281 against him in 32 official at-bats.
“He really works on his craft,” said Oakland catcher Josh Phegley, who was an A’s teammate of Venditte. “He’s out there working on both sides, which I feel like is maybe even harder than switch hitting. Try to figure out how to get big league guys out with both hands.”
Venditte is without question an obstacle for opposing batters, but his catchers also can have difficulty adjusting to his two deliveries.
“I think from like a catcher’s standpoint you almost had to just think of it as a new pitcher was coming in,” Phegley said. “The one thing I tell people is you kind of get in a groove with a guy, a certain arm slot, from the right side and you kind of expect it to come a certain direction.
“And then with someone that can just switch over, as a catcher it’s almost like really hard to make the adjustment the first couple pitches. All of sudden the ball’s coming from the other side and breaking the opposite direction.”
Fabian Ardaya and Jake Garcia contributed to this story.