DUNEDIN, Fla. – For fans, media and even teammates, Pat Venditte’s something of a novelty. Just the second ambidextrous pitcher in MLB history, he wears a special glove and even inspired a new rule.
But Venditte’s been pitching with both arms since he was a kid. For him, it’s a profession, not a quirk. It’s a good thing he’s patient, since everyone wants to know about the pitcher who throws from both sides.
"You learn to deal with it," Venditte said. “Honestly it’s just second nature because it’s been a part of everything since I’ve been in high school, college, pro ball. When it’s a part of everyday life, you just get used to it.
“I completely understand where it comes from. But you’ll see the novelty of it wears off. After a couple weeks in Oakland last year it was forgotten about and I was just another guy in the bullpen."
Ultimately the novelty means little if Venditte can’t get outs. He succeeded against lefties last year, thanks to a deceptive, low arm slot and a slider that bites. He worked over the off-season to improve against right-handed hitters in the hopes of improving his overall production and proving to Blue Jays decision makers that he belongs.
"Can it be a value to a team to pitch with both your right and left arms?" Venditte said. "If I can provide value, that’s where it’s all at."
So far Venditte has impressed, overcoming a platoon disadvantage to retire two switch-hitters Wednesday.
"He looked good. He’s showing us something," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "It’s a great, a fun story. The key is to get guys out and he looks like he can do it."
David Aardsma couldn’t get lefties out last year and he’s not about to pretend otherwise.
The 34-year-old former Seattle Mariners closer allowed a .353 batting average against left-handed hitters, so he built his off-season regimen around solving that problem.
"I had the best season of my career against righties last year and the worst against lefties," Aardsma said. "That was my season. I really couldn’t throw a second pitch to a lefty."
He arrives in Toronto Blue Jays camp on a minor-league contract with a change-up he hopes will neutralize lefties. He’ll still attack with a four-seam fastball and slider, but his change, a pitch that closely resembles a split-fingered fastball, figures prominently in his plans.
Aardsma’s battled injuries before, undergoing hip surgery as well as Tommy John surgery, but he says he feels great physically. In his prime his fastball averaged 94.5 mph, and he reached 94 mph in 2015 while averaging 91.5 mph. After an off-season of extensive Olympic lifting, he’s feeling strong.
"I know exactly what road I want to go down. Now it’s a matter of doing it," he said. "Easier said than done, I know."
While the Blue Jays’ bullpen has yet to take shape, Aardsma faces plenty of competition for one or two open spots. There are holdovers like Ryan Tepera and Steve Delabar plus newcomers such as Venditte, Rule 5 pick Joe Biagini and former closer Rafael Soriano.
Still, Aardsma's goal remains clear: make the Blue Jays out of spring training. "And if I’m not, do everything I can to be there soon."
Jesse Chavez is a candidate for some higher-leverage relief innings if he doesn’t end up in the rotation. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said the right-hander – in competition with Aaron Sanchez, Gavin Floyd and Drew Hutchison for a starting job – could end up in a number of different roles depending on what makes the most sense for the pitching staff.
"I’m not sure what his role is going to be, he’s competing for that fifth slot, too," said Gibbons. "If he’s not that guy, I can see him being very valuable out of the bullpen. He can even pitch later in the game. He wouldn’t be limited necessarily to long or middle type innings because he’s always going to throw strikes. So really if you look at it, he's really valuable to this team. If Sanchie ends up in the rotation, Jesse might fit that role Sanchie was having, too. Who knows."
The Blue Jays recently signed Soriano to a minor-league deal with an invite to big-league camp as they look for options to build out their bullpen. Soriano is still working through visa issues and has yet to arrive.