Not many active players in major league baseball have official rules named after them. Blue Jays reliever Pat Venditte does, though.
Venditte, who can throw with both his left and right arm, inspired the creation of the Pat Venditte rule in 2008 — his first year in pro ball. It states that an ambidextrous pitcher must visually indicate which arm he'll use before facing a switch-hitter. The hitter can then decide which side of the plate he'll bat from.
The 30-year-old Venditte, who was claimed off waivers by Toronto from the Oakland Athletics in the off-season, still laughs when he thinks about being the muse behind the rule. But he doesn't put much stock into it.
"Yeah, it's something," Venditte said with a chuckle at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. "People think it's cool but being here pitching at this level is far cooler than having a rule named after you."
'Still a work in progress'
Venditte, a natural right-hander, started throwing with his left arm at age 3 at his father's behest. It wasn't until his junior year at Creighton University, however, that he really began seeing results.
"It's still a work in progress," Venditte said of his unique skill.
And it's not without its quirks.
Venditte's bullpens last twice as long — he alternates arms during sessions to mimic real game situations — and he keeps three custom-made gloves on the top shelf of his locker in the Blue Jays' clubhouse, with plenty more in reserve.
Each glove has six fingers — two thumb slots with the pocket in the middle — so he can use it regardless of which hand he's pitching with.
"It's a little wider than most, but for me it functions as a regular glove," Venditte said.
The peculiar hardware has drawn interest from his teammates, including right-hander Marcus Stroman, who tested the glove out at camp last week.
'Never seen anything like it'
"Yeah, it definitely felt weird," Stroman said. "But it was awesome. It's so cool to have that guy in my [bullpen] group and see him work. That's a completely unique talent on its own."
"I've 100 per cent never seen anything like it," Stroman added. "It still makes me laugh every time I see it."
Venditte says that's a typical reaction to his glove — especially early on in camp.
"Give it about a week and nobody remembers," he said. "They see it and they move on."
Selected by the New York Yankees in the 20th round of the 2008 draft, the Omaha native made his MLB debut with Oakland last June but landed on the 15-day disabled list with a right shoulder strain five days later.
Rather than rely on his left arm while the right was injured (Venditte said he could have done that), both he and the A's decided the DL was a better option.
"When you pitch in a game, just because you're using your left hand there's still a lot of movements that go on with your right," Venditte said. "It would be hard for it to properly heal."
He finished the season 2-2 with a 4.40 earned-run average through just 28 2/3 innings but had a 1.55 ERA with 40 strikeouts through 40 2/3 innings at triple-A.
Versatility gives Blue Jays flexibility
Venditte, who throws three pitches with his left hand — a low-to-mid 80's fastball, a slider and a change-up — has had more success from that side. Last season he held the 48 left-handed hitters he faced to a .116 batting average.
In his first spring training game on Monday Venditte faced five batters — switching from right to left for each — in an inning of intrasquad play. He gave up a two-out walk and a hit and struck out the final batter he faced.
While few spots are up for grabs in the Toronto bullpen, manager John Gibbons is intrigued by Venditte's versatility.
"Shoot, it's a great story," said Gibbons. "If it works and he happens to be on the team he gives us a lot of flexibility."
Venditte is just hoping for a solid spring training. The rest is out of his hands.
"My goal is to leave a good impression," he said. "Take advantage of this opportunity and wherever I am to start the year, that's where I'll be.
"I want to show them that I can help them — if not in the beginning of the season, hopefully at some point throughout the year."