COLUMBIA — It’s the eighth inning of Tuesday’s Creighton-Missouri game, Creighton leading 4-1, and Bluejays pitcher Pat Venditte has just made Tigers outfielder Ryan Lollis look silly. Pitching left-handed and releasing the ball from a point just above sidearm, Venditte fired three consecutive nasty pitches, the final one resulting in a swing, a miss, and a return to the dugout for Lollis.
He never had a chance.
Aaron Senne, batting next, has better luck, taking one of Venditte’s offerings and depositing it into left-center field for a single. As Senne rounds first base and righty Jacob Priday makes his way to the plate, Venditte walks behind the pitchers mound, his back to the crowd, and makes an adjustment with his glove. A few moments later he returns and, throwing with his right hand, deals his first pitch to Priday, eventually striking him out.
Pat Venditte is an oddity. He’s a pitcher, he’s ambidextrous, and he’s very good, good enough to be drafted by the Yankees last year. Because batters tend to hit considerably better when facing a pitcher throwing from the opposite side, Venditte always has the matchup advantage. When a left-hander comes to bat, he pitches left-handed, and when a right-hander is up, he throws right-handed. According to the Creighton media guide, he’s a natural right-hander who has been able to throw with both arms since he was three years old.
The issue, of course, is how Venditte switches gloves. He doesn’t. Instead, Venditte has a custom-made glove with six fingers and two thumb holes and webbing on each side that can be flipped to the other arm whenever needed. The transition is so smooth, few notice.
After Priday struck out - an event that marked the 38th time in Venditte’s career that he had struck out a batter with each arm in a game - it was catcher Trevor Coleman’s turn.
Coleman, however, is a switch-hitter, leaving Venditte with a decision to make. Venditte did not hesitate. Even though Coleman hits better right handed and the wind was blowing out to left field, Venditte flipped his glove and threw left handed. Until Coleman’s two-run homerun to left-center field, which made the score 4-3 in favor of Creighton, Venditte had not allowed a home run to a left-handed batter all year. “He obviously feels better pitching from the left side than he does from the right side, or else he would have turned him around,” Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said of matchup. Venditte, switching again, struck out Jonah Schmidt to end the inning.
After holding Creighton scoreless in the top of the ninth, Missouri still down by one, Venditte remained in the game, allowing the Dan Pietroburgo to reach on an error. The next batter, Andrew Thigpen, another right-hander, grounded out. Inside the Missouri dugout, the wheels were turning in Jamieson’s mind. With the runner now on second and with one out, he made a curious move, pinch-hitting left-handed Steve Gray for right-handed Kyle Mach. Venditte flipped his glove, no doubt with pleasure.
“The thing in that situation is it was either going to be right-on-right or left-on-left,” Jamieson explained after the game. “Left-on-left, Steve Gray, if he gets one up and he hits it this way (to left field), it’s a home run.”
That it was a better matchup for the Tigers just goes to show how Venditte can affect a game. Steve Gray, though a good hitter, has not been good against left-handers this year. He’s actually been bad enough that he isn’t allowed to play against them.
Against Venditte, however, Jamieson felt he was the Tigers’ best chance, and when he sent a high fly over the wall in left field, giving the Tigers a much-needed 5-4 victory, he made Jamieson look like a genius.
“I wish I could tell you I predicted that to happen,” Jamieson said after the game, “but that was just the better matchup for us.”