Friday, June 5, 2015. It was the day we've all been waiting for. The Mayans marked it on their calendar, but we didn't know what it meant. Now we know. It was the day that switch-pitcher Pat Venditte made his long-awaited MLB debut, and it was glorious.
Of course Venditte's debut came as a member of the Oakland A's, a team known for being as innovative as anyone in sports. He's not the first to throw with both hands in an MLB game, but he's the first since the 1890s to employ it as a full-time strategy. It took two months of dominating the Pacific Coast League, but Venditte finally got the call to the bigs on Friday to help out a tattered bullpen. The entire baseball world held its breath in anticipation, and when the A's went down 4-2 to the Red Sox it became clear that Venditte was going to get his chance.
The call came to start the seventh inning.
The first batter was Brock Holt, a lefty, so Venditte put his glove on his right hand and went to work with his left. The first pitch was a strike, 83 mph on the inside corner, but Holt worked it to 3-2. On the seventh pitch, he pulled a routine grounder to first baseman Mark Canha for the first out.
The next batter, Hanley Ramirez, was a righty, so Venditte flipped his glove onto his left hand and got ready to face one of the best hitters in the world. The first right-handed pitch went for a strike, an 86 mph fastball on the outer half of the plate, and the confused look on Hanley's face is one that will surely be shared by many batters this year. He figured things out quickly, though, and on the next pitch he knocked a solidly hit grounder to the left side for a single. Fortunately, Mike Napoli hit his first pitch on the ground for a tailor-made double play, ending the inning.
Venditte came back out for the eighth. He went ahead 0-2 on the right-handed Xander Bogaerts, but it turned into a full count and it wasn't until the ninth pitch that Bogaerts grounded out. The right-handed Mookie Betts hit an easy fly to right for the second out, and that brought up catcher Blake Swihart, the first switch-hitter of Venditte's career.
Swihart had brought his right-handed batting helmet out to the on-deck circle, the one with the flap over the left ear that faces the pitcher in a right-handed batting stance. Venditte initially put his glove on his right hand like he was going to pitch lefty to Swihart, but then he suddenly changed his mind and put it back on his left hand. He wanted to pitch righty to Swihart. I'd like to think he did that just so that Swihart would have to go back and get his other helmet, the one built for a left-handed stance, but it's probably more likely that Venditte was just on a roll with his right hand and wanted to stay in his rhythm. Either way, he struck out Swihart swinging on five pitches for his first career K and his first 1-2-3 inning.
It was tough to draw many conclusions from Venditte's seven left-handed pitches, but I will say that I liked him way better from the right side. As a lefty, Venditte threw two 83 mph "changeups," according to MLB.com, but I imagine those were his heater and the program just assumes anything that slow is an offspeed pitch. His other five pitches were sliders, in the 71-73 mph range with a decent-but-not-incedible amount of break. The sidearm frisbee delivery definitely made everything from the left side look a bit better than it was, by which I mean that he used deception to his advantage.
From the right side, here was his pitch breakdown, from MLB.com:
10 cutters, 86-88 mph (really a fastball?)
10 changeups, 72-74 mph (really a curve?)
1 curveball, 77 mph (really a change?)
(Update: It appears that the program got fooled and misclassified all of these right-handed pitches, according to danmerqury in the comments. The cutters were really fastballs, the changeups were really curveballs, and the curveball was really a changeup. The program likely thought he was pitching lefty the whole time and classified his pitches based on left-handed movement patterns. Because Venditte can even break modern baseball technology. Anyway, I've replaced the pitch names in an attempt to reflect reality.)
I thought everything he threw from the right side had excellent movement, which should help make up somewhat for his lack of velocity. The
changeup curveball in particular moved quite well, away from the right-handed hitter, though it should be noted that Hanley's single came on this pitch. The cutter fastball moved in a bit on righties, but not as much as the change did the other way; still, all the outs against righty hitters came on cutters fastballs and the Swihart strikeout came on a change curve, which makes sense since you would generally expect a RHP to use a change curve to retire a LHH. The "curveball" didn't look much like a curveball but was definitely something different than the cutter/change because it was actually a changeup, and he only used it once, against the lefty Swihart.
Venditte's final line included 2 innings, 0 runs, 1 strikeout, 0 walks, and 1 hit on 28 pitches. It was an excellent MLB debut, at legendary Fenway Park no less, in front of his parents. After toiling for years in the Yankees organization, and then waiting patiently for two more months in Triple-A Nashville, Venditte has finally reached the Majors, and he succeeded in his first appearance. Modern Major League Baseball has its first full-time switch-pitcher, and he's exactly what I hoped he would be -- fun, but also good. Welcome to Oakland, Pat!