Venditte certainly made an impression upon his arrival, relieving in the fifth inning of New York's 9-6 loss to Atlanta. As the entire Yankees infield huddled around the mound, Venditte fired four warmup pitches from the left side, then four more from the right side.
To the dismay of some, Venditte's first inning of Grapefruit League duty almost went too quickly. Pitching right-handed, he escaped by inducing a Yunel Escobar groundout on just two pitches before returning to work in the sixth.
Atlanta moved on through the order, with Venditte facing the next five Braves as his advantage allowed, seeing righties right-handed and lefties left-handed. Venditte throws harder from the right side, with a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup in his arsenal. He only scraps the curve when he switches to his sidearmed left-handed delivery.
"We were talking in the outfield -- how is that possible?" Nick Swisher said. "How does somebody even have the ability to do that? That's great. I've been waiting all spring to see it."
With Venditte's teammates cheering on each switch on the rubber, an inevitable situation like the one that prompted a Minor League rule change two years ago finally popped up. Switch-hitter Brooks Conrad stepped up to the plate.
On his way there, Conrad asked home-plate umpire Mike Reilly, "How do I do this?" according to catcher Jorge Posada.
"I was pacing around the dugout, trying to figure out what I was supposed to do," Conrad said. "I went up there left-handed, and then if he would have asked to pitch left-handed, I would have turned around and gone right-handed. So I took both helmets and both bats up there."
Reilly came prepared, armed with the Official Baseball Rules. Rule 8.01 (f) states that 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.
MLB Rule 8.01 (f), regarding ambidextrous pitchers
|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.|
No one has switch-pitched in the big leagues since Greg A. Harris in September 1995, an appearance that Venditte recalled seeing televised highlights of as a 10-year-old.
So with Reilly pointing to the mound and looking for that indication, Venditte raised his right arm, prompting Conrad to step in as a lefty. Conrad then hit a ground ball to first base, ending Venditte's 1 1/3 innings of one-run, two-hit relief.
"For me, it was entertaining," Posada said. "I think he's got enough. I think it's interesting that he can switch in between hitters. We saw that -- he saw a lefty on deck and switched it right away.
"He's got an idea. He throws strikes, throws harder from the right side probably, with some breaking balls and stuff. He was probably nervous, too."
There had been some talk in the clubhouse about Venditte's arrival, as several players asked to see Venditte's six-fingered, two-pocketed Mizuno glove -- outfielder Brett Gardner couldn't figure out how exactly it fit.
In the dugout, Sabathia admitted to some confusion, having been unaware of Venditte's special gift before the pitching change was made.
"It freaked me out a little bit," Sabathia said. "When I came out of the game, I was looking and I was like, 'Oh, they brought a lefty in.' The batter gets up there and he's throwing right-handed. It was a little weird."
Sabathia was a switch-pitcher of sorts himself -- he guesses that he was throwing right-handed up until about age 6, when it was discovered that he was a natural lefty.
"But I can't throw [right-handed] now in a big league game like that," Sabathia said. "That's pretty impressive."
Once a walk-on at Creighton University, Venditte was a 20th-round Draft pick of the Yankees in 2008 and is 5-2 with a 1.53 ERA in 79 career Minor League relief appearances.
Last season, Venditte finished at Class A Tampa, where he was 2-0 with a 2.21 ERA in 21 games. He expects to start 2010 there and said that he considers switch-pitching a necessity if his professional career is to progress.
"I think I have to," Venditte said. "I don't have overpowering stuff from either side, and I think I really need this to be able to continue pitching.
"I've got a long way to go still. I've only been in the lower levels of the Minors, and I have a lot to prove. Luckily, I have the opportunity to do that."