SCRANTON, PA. -- Hey, have you guys gotten sick of all the hype yet about that Yankees prospect?
You must know the one I mean. His ERA this year, pitching in the two highest minor league levels, is an even 2.00. He's thrown 36 innings, and his walk rate is a tiny 1.8 per nine, his strikeout rate a fantastic 10.5 per nine. He sparkled for Double-A Trenton. Then, when called to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he struck out the first five batters he faced.
And lest you think this is some small-sample illusion, his career rates are 2.3 walks and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings over his minor league career.
Haven't heard of him? No questions for Joe Girardi or Brian Cashman about when the team will call him up? Guess he has a platoon split problem. Sure, righties have just a .550 OPS against him this year. But lefties... oh, a .465 OPS against him.
No, Pat Venditte, switch-pitcher and deeply deserving major league call-up, doesn't have a platoon split problem. Instead, the dual sidearmer presents an unprecedented matchup problem for opposing managers anytime he enters the game.
But last winter, 29 teams had the chance to take an unprotected Venditte from the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft. They all passed. The Yankees elected not to invite him to major league camp this spring. As he approaches his 29th birthday, no one seems to know whether Venditte will get the chance to put on a major league uniform.
He's the kind of hard-working player managers love. And he'd be the last person to complain about the years he's spent honing his craft, set to not only make history but potentially help a major league team. So I'm here to do it for him. Pat Venditte should get a major league job. For him. For the team who employs him. For all of us.
And yet, this spring, Venditte wasn't sure how much longer he'd have a job with the Yankees, period.
"I came into camp with my back against the wall," Venditte told me as we chatted in the stands, hours before his Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders played Tuesday at PNC Field. "I knew I'd have to perform, or find something else to do, or at least, another team."
He wasn't even sure he'd continue switch-pitching. First, his plan was to pitch for Italy in the Asia Series in Taiwan, but insurance issues kept him out of the non-sanctioned MLB event. He'd spent part of the winter with Los Mochis, of the Mexican League, but mostly as a situational lefty.
"I had really not figured out the right-handed slot," Venditte said. "It actually kind of discouraged me, and I had a talk with the pitching coordinator, telling him that I didn't think I was going to be able to pitch from that arm angle. Their response was well, we think that's the only way for you to be effective with us here.
"So I went up to Trenton with that attitude. And Tommy Phelps, the pitching coach there, he moved me over on the rubber a little bit, and had me start playing catch, all sidearm. I don't know if it was a mental thing or what, but things started to click in Trenton. And I feel a lot more comfortable now, sidearm."
That dovetails with what Venditte was already doing from the left side. It makes him a dual sidearmer, coming in around a mid-80s fastball, along with a slider and occasional changeup. What he's giving up in velocity from the right side, he's gaining in command and arm angle.
This is a big deal. It would be a big deal, for entertainment purposes (and baseball, let's remember, is entertainment), to see Pat Venditte pitch as he does.
But take that completely out of the equation, and there are deeply compelling reasons for a major league team to give him a chance.
In a time of relief specialists, Venditte is one. But his specialty is both lefties and righties. And thanks to the Pat Venditte Rule, he can simply declare himself by batter. A properly-stacked big league lineup (lefty/righty/lefty, for instance) normally forces a manager, to optimize a platoon advantage in, say, the seventh inning, to go to a lefty reliever, either pray that lefty gets the righty who follows out, or change pitchers. To get it for all three hitters, three pitchers are required. (See Tony La Russa for details.)
Venditte, in the same spot, provides the platoon advantage against all three hitters, while keeping two other relievers fresh in the process.
He also presents twice the stamina a normal reliever would. The Yankees have been stretching him out accordingly. He'd pitched two innings in five of 15 outings with Trenton before getting promoted in mid-May. But four of his seven outings with Scranton have been at least two innings, and on June 8, he threw three scoreless frames in relief.
That combination, crossover possibility with multi-inning durability, is not only a huge advantage for a manager in-game, but could allow a general manager to use an extra roster spot or two he'd otherwise have to commit to his bullpen.
Pat Venditte could mean more rested bullpens. Pat Venditte could mean 11-man bullpens, and extra bench players. All without sacrificing on the performance side.
"I've just used him a lot of different places," Railriders pitching coach Scott Aldred said. "He's held up good. He can pitch more frequently than the other guys, because he's got two arms to go to, pitch count-wise. Max, I'd like to see him throw 35 pitches, each arm. And that -- if you've got a balanced lineup, and that's 35 pitches each arm, that's 70 pitches. That could be six innings of work."
Even switch-hitters, though not quite the advantage for Venditte they would be if they, and not he, needed to declare a side first, present an opportunity. Venditte, scouting ahead of time, can force them to their weaker side.
"Basically, it's the numbers first," Venditte said about how he plans for the switch-hitters. "But a lot of the time, just see that a guy's significant worse against one side or the other. And then if it's not, if it's a toss-up, I pick the left hand, just because it helps the workload. Most lineups don't have six or seven lefties. Most have two three, four, maybe five at the most. So having that switch-hitter in there allows me to even out the workload."
Still, every conversation I've had with Venditte, or his coaches and managers, or even scouts and other front office members of other teams has something surreal about it. And I think that may be the single greatest barrier to entry for Venditte, why the Yankees haven't promoted him yet, why no other team took him in the Rule 5 draft, or traded for him.
There's no comp.
I asked Venditte whether he felt particular pressure to be even better than another pitcher might have to be, simply to get a chance.
"I knew in Trenton, I was going to have to do what I did to get up here," Venditte said. "It was either that, or the alternative was I wasn't gonna get up here. Essentially, that's what you try to do anyway, whether it's 10-0 or 2-2, is try and put up a zero for your team. I've felt that pressure ever since I started. That's nothing new. But at this level, there's only one place to go. And for that to happen, I have to be perfect to get there, because like you said, there's no comparable, where they can say, 'Oh, he's gonna go up there and pitch like this guy.'"
Even his lone poor outing of the season -- a difficult ninth on June 5 against Norfolk, and the only time all season he's allowed more than a run -- Venditte followed up with three scoreless frames his next time out.
"I knew it was gonna give me another day," Venditte said, chuckling. "At the end of the day, that's all of us have here, is another day, and another opportunity. And I'm grateful, because hopefully my process that I've done all seasons, leading up to this, will lead to a good thing. You know, it's not gonna be this one outing here, one outing there, it's a body of work. I feel confident that I've done enough to prepare myself, if it comes."
There are comps, though -- just in pairs. The 2006 Mets came within a game of the World Series with Chad Bradford, a sidearmer from the right side who didn't throw as hard as Venditte nor strike out nearly as many hitters in the minor leagues. And that team also had lefty Pedro Feliciano, who made a similar sidearm conversion midway through his career, at the behest of Rick Peterson, and enjoyed years of success.
The idea that a Venditte, capable of simultaneously being both Bradford and Feliciano as needed, wouldn't get that chance because he wasn't merely one or the other is mind-boggling to consider. Venditte's humility was on display when I brought up these names, however.
"You know, I'm hesitant to compare myself to any big league pitcher, because they're there, and that's an entirely new ballgame," Venditte said. He cited pitchers like Matt Daley and Clay Rapada as pitchers he's tried to emulate, and it was impossible to miss: that's one righty, one lefty.
His family, back in Omaha, seems to have about the same view of Venditte's major league that I believe the decision-makers in Major League Baseball should.
"You know, having the success that I've had this year, you have a lot of people who don't necessarily understand the game," Venditte said, smiling as he recalled. "Who think my day, my call, is a day away. So a lot of time I'm just tempering emotions, actually. I tell my wife, and my family, I'll tell you if anything is going to happen.
"And my wife, my parents are good about that. They don't bring it up a lot, they understand what I'm doing, and they're just very supportive on a daily basis."
That support, in the case of his father, is ongoing bullpen catcher for his offseason throwing program back home in Omaha. For his wife, Erin, it's about working out the details of Venditte pursuing his dream. The Vendittes got married in October, and so that first year of a marriage comes packaged with the uncertainty of Venditte's career.
"She's at home working right now," Venditte said. "And the plan is, next year, that she'll come with me. I don't know if that will be here, or where it will be, or even if it will be anywhere! But we've had that conversation, and she's on board. She's ready to come wherever we go, here, Asia, wherever. But she's along for the ride, and she's very supportive."
While the Yankees have allowed Venditte to pitch as he wishes, his career options have been limited in that he couldn't go anywhere else. That changes this offseason, when Venditte will be a six-year minor league free agent. If any of the 29 other major league teams believe he can help them, they can sign him to prove it, finally. Venditte, 29 on June 30 and married, needs to figure out how to earn a living. But he'd certainly be amenable to going to a team where he figures into the plans, even if that meant some more time at Triple-A.
"I'm not ready to give up on this game yet," Venditte said. "I've had a family that's been very supportive. I don't have any reason yet. I don't have kids yet. I want to see this one through until they take the ball away from me."
He said he doesn't try to think about what it might feel like if the Yankees, or some other team, decides to make history and tilt late-game strategy in their favor, all in one roster move.
"I don't know when it's going to happen, or if it is. So I just want to do every last thing so that if it does happen, I'm ready to take full advantage... It's up to me to have results. When that will be, I don't know. But I'm enjoying the heck out of it in the meantime."
And if Venditte does get the call, the many young pitchers who also switch-pitch have an advocate in Venditte, who said he sees more and more trying to do what he does, and tries to help each of them.
But perhaps more important, the day Venditte steps on a major league mound, every one of these switch-pitchers will have something more important than even advice.
They'll have a comp.
"I hope so," Venditte said. "It's a very high level, even here, so I would hope that they would see that it is possible. My stuff is not eye-popping. It is what it is. But there are other things that go into it. There's so much more that goes into getting a hitter out than what a radar gun says. And people see that. There's guys getting major league hitters out throwing 90, there's guys struggling at Double-A throwing 98.
"I can't explain this game," Venditte concluded, laughing. "This game is crazy."