The Oakland A’s have promoted Pat Venditte to the Major Leagues. Normally the promotion of a middle reliever would not make any waves, but Venditte is different: he can pitch with both arms.
When Venditte appears in his first game, he will be the first switch-pitcher in Major League Baseball since 1894 and the first pitcher to use both arms in a single game since Greg A. Harris did in 1995. Harris was a right-handed pitcher who taught himself to throw left-handed, doing it only once, in his next-to-last game in the big leagues.
A natural right-hander, Venditte’s dad, a former college baseball player, encouraged him to throw with both arms, telling ESPN’s E:60 that his hope was just that his son would make it further in baseball than his father did before him.
The biggest challenge growing up was finding a glove Venditte could use in Little League games after being told he couldn’t take two gloves to the mound.
The result was this six-fingered monstrosity produced by Mizuno in Osaka, Japan.
There are two huge advantages to being able to pitch with both arms. The first is within the game as Venditte can switch arms depending on the batter at the plate or the situation in the game. Venditte can choose to throw right-handed to a right-handed batter, left-handed to a left-handed batter, or keep a runner on first base closer to the bag by throwing lefty, to name a couple of examples.
The other advantage is that Venditte can, in theory, throw twice as many pitches and twice as often as a normal pitcher, a huge advantage in today’s game where teams often need 3-5 relievers in a single night.
The only complication occurs when there is a switch-hitter, something that has already been addressed by Major League Baseball’s Rule 5.07 which includes a section for ambidextrous pitchers. The rule says Venditte must declare which hand he will use for each batter and he cannot switch until he faces a new batter:
“A pitcher must indicate visually to the umpire-in-chief, the batter and any runners the hand with which he intends to pitch, which may be done by wearing his glove on the other hand while touching the pitcher’s plate. The pitcher is not permitted to pitch with the other hand until the batter is retired, the batter becomes a runner,the inning ends, the batter is substituted for by a pinch-hitter or the pitcher incurs an injury. In the event a pitcher switches pitching hands during an at-bat because he has suffered an injury, the pitcher may not, for the remainder of the game, pitch with the hand from which he has switched. The pitcher shall not be given the opportunity to throw any preparatory pitches after switching pitching hands. Any change of pitching hands must be indicated clearly to the umpire-in-chief.”
That rule was put in place to avoid a situation like the one that occurred with Venditte in the minor leagues back in 2009 when he faced a switch-hitter and the two kept switching back-and-forth and nobody seemed to know what to do (see the 1:13 mark of this video):
There are downsides to being a switch-pitcher. It likely takes Venditte twice as long to warm-up and on top of that, pitchers are allowed just eight warm-up pitches when they enter the game. Venditte will likely have to split those pitches up.
The bigger issue is mechanics. Pitching is a complicated process with a ton of moving parts. One hiccup in the operation can mess everything up. Venditte, while he has similar throwing motions from both sides, still has two sets of mechanics he must be concerned with at all times while developing two separate arms to be big league ready.
That latter point was likely a contributing factor in why it has taken Venditte seven years to make it to the big leagues since being drafted by the Yankees back in 2008.
If Venditte can prove both arms belong in the big leagues, it will be a huge advantage for the A’s, who now get an extra arm to use that other teams can’t have.
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