• Photo Showcase: Pat Venditte
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His name never shows up on those lists of hot prospects. His club left him unprotected during the offseason. His talent is still considered a novelty by some observers.
Pat Venditte's response to all that is to go out and get outs, just as he has since the New York Yankees four years ago gave the ambidextrous pitcher from Omaha a chance to fulfill a dream of becoming a professional baseball player.
And Venditte is doing it this season just one step away from the major leagues, pitching for Scanton/Wilkes-Barre in the Class AAA International league. The former Creighton All-American's slow but steady climb through the organization has him in a place few expected he'd reach when the Yankees picked him in the 20th round of the 2008 free-agent draft.
“It's every player's dream to pitch on that stage,'' Venditte said. “I'm very grateful that the Yankees have given me this chance. I know that I am very close.''
Yet, so very far away. Venditte's unusual skill set — the ability to throw with both arms — is as much a curse as a blessing. In a game where a player's every move is evaluated and scrutinized, Venditte defies convention.
Venditte’s switch-pitching skills bring 2-for-1 value in that it reduces the need for his manager to play the matchup game with his bullpen. Venditte throws from the left-side, using his fastball and slider, to left-handed hitters and from the right side, with a fastball-curveball pairing, to right-handed hitters.
He cannot switch arms during an at-bat, the result of baseball instituting the Venditte rule following a much-celebrated cat-and-mouse game he found himself playing with a switch-hitter during his rookie year. Venditte must indicate which arm he will throw with. The batter can decide which side of the plate from which he’ll hit.
Venditte’s a pitcher without a “plus” major league pitch, but he came into this season averaging 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings. He's allowed more than a hit an inning in just one of his four stops in the Yankees' minor league chain in spite of throwing in the low 90s with his right arm and in the high 80s with his left. His control, with either arm, is outstanding: He's compiled a 4.36-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
Ask Venditte if the Yankees have given him even a glimpse of where he might stand in the organization, and he answers like so many players in so many other organizations.
“In this game,” he said, “you never really know where you stand.''
Production is the bottom line, and there's no denying that Venditte has produced wherever he's pitched.
“The only thing you can do is let the numbers speak for themselves,'' Venditte said. “Unless you throw hard, you have to put up a lot of zeroes to get their attention.
“But for them to put me here, when they don't have a lot of money invested in me, does mean something.''
Venditte spent last season pitching at Class AA Trenton, where he threw a career-high 90 innings while compiling a 3-7 record and a 3.40 ERA. He started the transition from the closer role he'd held at the lower levels of the organization to a middle-innings reliever.
After pitching in the Mexican League over the winter, Venditte headed for minor league camp this spring fully expecting to return to Trenton this season. The Yankees then threw him a curveball late in spring training. First, they brought him to major league camp for the final four days. Then they told him he would begin the season in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Venditte had made appearances for the major league team in the spring in previous seasons, but this was different.
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“They flew me down to Miami,'' he said. “I had never traveled with the big league club. I had never stayed in big league hotels. It made it kind of tough to come back here, but it also provides you with a lot of incentive.''
It also provided an adventure for his parents. Pat and Janet Venditte had visited their son in Florida and returned to Omaha the day he learned he was being brought up to the major league team.
“They were already in the air when I found out,'' he said. “They got back to Omaha, turned right around and flew to Miami. They got to see me pitch in Miami's new stadium.''
After that sweet taste of big league life, Venditte is back in the minors. And no other team in the minors is going through what Venditte and his teammates have experienced this season. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is building a new stadium, but it won't be finished until next season.
So the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees are playing their entire season on the road. They are designated as the home team in half their games, but they're always playing in someone else's stadium.
“We're spending a lot of time on buses,'' Venditte said.
He made his Class AAA debut April 6 against Lehigh Valley and got roasted by the IronPigs, giving up four hits and four runs in two innings. Three days later, Venditte threw three shutout innings against Syracuse. That started a string of scoreless innings that has now reached 11 over his past six appearances.
He's 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA, and opposing hitters are batting .234 against him.
Syracuse's Tyler Moore went 0 for 2 against Venditte after homering in his previous at-bat in the April 9 game.
“He's kind of funky out there, but he's a competitor,'' Moore told the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper. “He's got the stuff to get outs. I think it's good for the game. It brings people out.''
More important, he gets people out. Venditte learned long ago how to handle the attention that accompanies the uniqueness of his baseball act. He knows with each new stop, the curiosity factor will be high to get a look at baseball's only ambidextrous pitcher.
But that won't get him to the major leagues. And with his 27th birthday approaching next month, Venditte knows he's pitching against the clock.
“The thing is, what I do is nothing new to the guys I'm playing with and against,'' Venditte said. “Most of them have seen me before. I'm not going to impress them just because I can throw with either arm.
“I'm no different than they are. We all have the same goal. It's all about going about your business as you try to reach that goal.''
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