DUNEDIN, Fla. — Few active baseball players have official rules named after them.
A Blue Jays reliever who can throw with his left and right arm inspired the creation of the Pat Venditte rule in 2008. According to the rule, an ambidextrous pitcher must visually indicate which arm he’ll use before facing a switch-hitter, who 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 rule’s muse during his first year in the pros. He doesn’t put much stock into it though.
"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."
A natural right-hander, Venditte started throwing with his left arm at age three 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.
It’s not without its quirks.
Venditte’s bullpen sessions last twice as long as he alternates arms to mimic real game situations. He also keeps three custom-made gloves on the top shelf of his locker 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.
"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."
That’s a typical reaction to his glove, especially early in camp, Venditte said.
"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, 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.
Venditte, who throws a low-to-mid 80’s fastball, a slider and a change-up with his left hand, 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."