It’s not often that a rule is created as the result of a single player.
The curveball was briefly banned when W.A. “Candy” Cummings first mastered it in the 1860s. Ed Walsh got the spitball blacklisted in 1920. Five inches were shaved off the mound in the wake of Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA season in 1968.
In the case of current Rainiers relief pitcher Pat Venditte, he’s largely credited for the 2008 drafting of the “Ambidextrous Pitcher” rule. When Venditte, 31, was acquired by the Mariners in a waiver deal with the Blue Jays on Aug. 6, the rule was sent out as a memo to the Tacoma coaching staff.
The rule states that before touching the pitching rubber, a pitcher must declare to the umpire which hand he desires to throw with — which can be done by which hand he places the glove on — and may not switch until there is a change of batters, unless the throwing hand is injured, in which case he may not switch back for the remainder of the game.
Venditte is the first ambidextrous pitcher to appear in the major leagues since the mid-1990s.
“Honestly, I’ve never seen it before, and it’s going to be a first,” Rainiers pitching coach Lance Painter said. “I’ve been in pro baseball for 25 years, so you see something new every year. It’s going to be an interesting thing to see, because I’ve never seen him in the big leagues or in the minor leagues throw a game. The first time I see him pitch, we’ll just work from there.”
Tacoma manager Pat Listach, who played in the majors from 1992-1997, remembers playing against a switch-pitcher in a lower level in the 1980s.
Venditte is, of course, used to the ruling by now. Pitching with both hands has always been a part of his game. He first learned it from his father when he was 3 years old.
Venditte does everything right-handed except pitching and hitting, “to an extent,” he said.
“You don’t really realize it growing up,” he said. “You don’t really understand the matchup advantages, you’re just switching whenever. Then when I got to college I started to do the left on left, right on right advantages.
“Really in pro ball, that’s when I was able to separate myself being able to get lefties out, switching over and trying to get them out from the right side as well.”
Venditte goes through the scouting report like any pitcher, only he can elect which way he plans to face each batter.
“The only time it’s ever in question is when it’s a switch-hitter,” he said. “If it’s a lefty I’ll be facing him left-handed, if it’s a righty I’ll face him right-handed. … If it’s a situation where I’m not familiar with a guy, I’ll leave it in the coaching staff’s hands.”
Venditte, who appeared in eight games with Toronto this season, is used to being asked about being ambidextrous. He’s the second switch- pitcher to reach the majors, the first since Greg Harris, whose career spanned from 1981 to 1995.
The unique ability often puts Venditte in the spotlight. And never more so than in June 2015 after his MLB debut with the Oakland Athletics.
When an Associated Press story detailed his first appearance and the rarity of his switch-handedness, the East Oregonian newspaper ran the story with the headline blunder “Amphibious pitcher makes debut.”
The gaffe circulated on Twitter, and brought more attention to Venditte’s promotion. But he claims he was too focused on sticking in the pros to even notice.
“I was so wrapped up in what I was doing in the big leagues,” Venditte said. “I wasn’t really reading any headlines. I was worried about how I was going to get to my next outing.
“I think the writer was just going off a Yogi Berra quote and probably caught some unnecessary flak.”
Since then, Venditte said it’s come up about once a week.
He wears a special glove with six finger slots, the outside holes built for the thumbs, allowing him to switch hands on the fly. Custom gloves are the only ones he’s ever worn.
Right now, Venditte is adjusting to a new team and a new city on the fly, while trying to move his wife out from Buffalo, New York, where he made 25 appearances (2-1, 4.37 ERA, 1.49 WHIP) this season with the Triple-A Bison.
In his Rainiers debut on Tuesday, Venditte pitched two relief innings, allowed two hits, no walks and threw two strikeouts — all while switching hands.
Painter and the Rainiers coaching staff adapt plan on adapting going forward.
“I think it’s great for the pitcher,” Painter said. “If you can do that, it’s a commodity that no one else has. It’s something that is very rare, basically like a knuckleball, and is a tremendous asset.”
FRIDAY: Tacoma (RHP Taijuan Walker: 0-0, 4.15 ERA) at Memphis (RHP Arturo
Reyes: 8-4, 4.75), 5:05 p.m., 850-AM.
Andy Buhler: @a_buhla