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Oakland's Switch-Pitcher Pat Venditte Makes MLB Debut

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And now the historic moment for Major League Baseball. On Friday and again on Sunday, Pat Venditte, called up from the minor leagues by Oakland, came into page as a major leaguer. Pat Venditte is a switch-picture - that is, he can throw either right-handed or left-handed. A few years ago, he explained how he became one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAT VENDITTE: I'm a natural right-hander. My dad worked with me and developed my left side. And it took a while to develop, but by the time I was in college, I could finally see it coming to fruition. And it's what I need to do to pitch at this level because I don't have overpowering stuff from either side, so that's an advantage that I need.

SIEGEL: It's an advantage because right-handed pitchers do better against right-handed batters, and left-handed pitchers do better against left-handed batters. That's why some batters become switch-hitters in baseball - but a switch-pitcher? Emma Span of Sports Illustrated joins us from New York. And Emma Span, how unusual is this?

EMMA SPAN: He's a - the first pitcher in, you know, in anyone's memory who does this on a regular basis.

SIEGEL: This is so rare that baseball has to figure out what the rules are governing a pitcher who could conceivably throw left-handed one pitch and right-handed the next. What are the rules, and how did they come about?

SPAN: Well, they had to make a rule just for him. It's the Pat Venditte Rule. When he was in A ball on the Staten Island Yankees, he faced a switch-batter, and they kept going back and forth changing sides. No one could agree on who got priority, so the rule now is that the pitcher has to declare which hand he intends to use, and then the better can make his decision accordingly. And they're both allowed to switch once during the course of an at-bat.

SIEGEL: This actually happened in his first appearance on Friday night. He did face a switch-hitter, and it was quite confusing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: He said he's going to throw left-handed.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: He said - he just...

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: ...Gave a little - I'm going to throw left-handed.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: No, he...

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: He changed. He initially said, I'm going to throw left-handed, and then he said, whoa, time out. My bad. I'm going to throw right-handed.

SPAN: Well, you know, it's funny. You would think the umpires would have studied up on this, but it is certainly an unusual situation for them or for any of us.

SIEGEL: Well, obviously being a switch-pitcher, you don't go to the dugout and change gloves. He has one glove that he uses whether he's pitching right-handed or left-handed. What kind of a glove is it?

SPAN: It's a specialty glove. I believe it's made just for him, and I think, if I'm correct, I believe that it's imported from Japan.

SIEGEL: Yeah. And it has two webs and two thumbs and...

SPAN: It has two thumbs. And he can, you know, just switch easily back and forth. It doesn't take him any longer.

SIEGEL: Throwing a baseball seems like a very complicated athletic feat to do with both arms. I gather he is not really that ambidextrous, that he doesn't do anything else with his left hand.

SPAN: No, he's mostly a righty as far as, you know, writing anything or eating or anything like that. But he's, you know, trained since he was a little kid, as he said. And at this point, there's very little difference between his pitching from either side.

SIEGEL: You mean in quality, he's about as good...

SPAN: Yeah, similar velocity, similar control, not a - similar motions. He throws the same kind of pitches from either side. It's remarkable.

SIEGEL: Well, I guess one challenge a player in this situation faces is, is he just going to be a novelty, or is it a real advantage to the bullpen to have a guy who can face that left-handed pinch-hitter from the left side need be?

SPAN: Well, in theory, it is a big advantage not only because obviously he almost always has the advantage in the matchup but also because he can throw twice as many pitches as most pitchers. You know, if his right arm is getting worn out, you know, he can go to his left arm.

SIEGEL: That's a fascinating point. If he were a starter - starting pitchers, you know, usually get a hundred - maximum 120 pitches a game. But if actually 80 of those pitches are right-handed and 30 of them are left-handed, you shouldn't be as worn out from doing that.

SPAN: Right. I mean, pitching does involve your full body, but it's - most pressure's on the arm. So he can, you know, throw an inning as a righty, throw an inning as a lefty and come back the next day.

SIEGEL: On the other hand, he could be the first person ever to have two Tommy John surgeries.

SPAN: (Laughter) Well, it's funny, he had a right-shoulder injury about three years ago, but he was able to keep pitching even while he was rehabbing that right arm with his left arm, so he just...

SIEGEL: He just became a left-handed pitcher.

SPAN: Yeah. He didn't miss a year.

SIEGEL: Emma Span, senior editor at Sports Illustrated, thanks for talking with us today.

SPAN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.