Ambidextrous Pat Venditte arrives in camp eyeing bullpen spot with Phillies

Ambidextrous Pat Venditte arrives in camp eyeing bullpen spot with Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Pat Venditte's story has been told many times since he broke into professional baseball as a 20th-round draft pick of the New York Yankees in 2008.

But it was never told in the middle of the Phillies' clubhouse until Thursday afternoon.

"Ever since I started picking up a ball at three or four years old, my dad worked with me," said Venditte, graciously telling a group of reporters when his journey to becoming an ambidextrous pitcher began.

"He was thinking outside the box a little bit. He thought if there could be switch-hitters, why not a switch-pitcher?"

Venditte's two-sided pitching skills took him to Creighton University, where he was a teammate and roommate of Darin Ruf, and ultimately to the major leagues. He pitched in 41 games for Oakland, Toronto and Seattle the last two seasons and was traded from the Mariners to the Phillies (for minor-league outfielder Joey Curletta) over the weekend.

Venditte is not on the 40-man roster and will likely provide some intriguing bullpen depth at Triple-A.

But, he is in big-league camp and no one has ruled out his making a quick impression over the Phillies' final two weeks in Florida and landing on the opening day roster.

"The last couple spring trainings I’ve been a non-roster invitee," Venditte said. "It’s kind of an outside shot at making the team. I just kind of went in with the attitude of go in and show them that I can help the team, whether that be on opening day or in June. My goal here is to just have a good showing and help this team."

Spots in the Phillies' bullpen are at a premium. Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Joaquin Benoit, Pat Neshek and Edubray Ramos are pretty much set from the right side. Manager Pete Mackanin has said he'd like to carry two lefties in 'pen, but it could end up being one if right-hander Luis Garcia, who has recently added a splitter, continues to impress. Venditte is more effective from the left side (facing lefty hitters). He joins a group of lefty candidates that includes Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos. Of this group, only Morgan and Rodriguez are on the 40-man roster, and that could significantly impact the team's decisions.

Venditte's major-league splits favor his work from the left side as he has held lefty hitters to a .187 batting average while right-handed batters have hit .286.

Venditte isn't the first ambidextrous pitcher. Greg Harris, a former Phillie, pitched from both sides with the Expos in 1995. Harris wore a specially made, six-finger glove that fit both hands. The glove was an inspiration for the one that Venditte wears. His dad, Pat Sr., ordered his son's first combination glove from a Japanese company when Pat was a youngster.

"My dad traced my hand, faxed it to the Mizuno factory in Japan and two months later I had my first glove," Venditte said. "As crazy as it sounds, that’s how it happened."

Per major league rule, Venditte must declare which arm he will throw with before an opposing team sends a switch-hitter to the plate. His repertoire is different from each side.

"Left-handed, I'm pretty much all side-armed," he said. "Fastball, slider, working on a little bit of a change-up. Right-handed, I work both arm angles, over the top and side-armed. I throw a little bit harder right-handed."

Venditte is a naturally right-hand dominant. Throwing is the only thing he does from the left side -- thanks to his resourceful dad.

"I'm very grateful he did it because if you look at velocity and things like that, I probably wouldn't be here without this switch-pitching advantage," Venditte said.

The 31-year-old native Nebraskan is a personable and accommodating fellow. He said he often hears from youngsters who are trying their hand at throwing from both sides.

"Kids reach out all the time," he said. "When you’re younger you think it’s only a matter of time before you’re going to be in the big leagues. I have kids reach out and say they’re ambidextrous, as well. They hope to one day be in the big leagues. As far as that goes, it’s nice to have some sort of influence, but for me, it’s more about getting outs at the big-league level, left-handed or right-handed. It’s just whatever I have to do to help the team.

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

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ATLANTA — The Phillies and Atlanta Braves are both rebuilding teams that have looked to acquire as much pitching as possible over the last few seasons.

The Phillies added Nick Pivetta in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington two years ago. The Braves picked up Luiz Gohara from Seattle back in January.

If both pitchers continue to develop, there's a chance they could face each other in a National League division race someday. 

On Sunday, they squared off in a battle of teams playing out the string, but the intensity of the matchup was good. That can happen in the penultimate weekend of the season. After all, impressions can be made right up until the final pitch of the season. Players are always auditioning, especially rookies hoping to win spots next season.

Pivetta, 24, made a very nice showing. He out-pitched Gohara in helping the Phillies salvage one game of the three-game series against the Braves with a 2-0 win (see observations).

Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr keyed a just-enough Phillies' offense with a solo homer and an RBI double and the bullpen triumvirate of Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris combined for three scoreless innings to seal the shutout.

Pivetta pitched six shutout innings, walked one and struck out four. He gave up five hits. It's been an up-and-down season for the rookie right-hander. There's been a lot of on-the-job training and a few bruisings. He is 7-10 with a 6.26 ERA in 25 starts. He has allowed just two runs in 12 innings over his last two starts, so he's finishing the season on a high note.

"The key to his outing today was that he was throwing all his pitches for strikes," manager Pete Mackanin said. "His breaking ball and his changeup, he really did a good job with them, throwing them ahead in the count and behind in the count, so that was key.

"This is the place to learn. You can have a lot of success in the minor leagues but when you get up here it's a different animal. The best place to learn is at the big-league level and take your lumps and learn from them. Now, if you have too many guys like that you don’t win a lot of games, so you can afford to have one or maybe two guys in the rotation that are feeling their way through it, but not more than that."

Forced to the majors by injuries in the rotation early in the season, Pivetta has often talked about the learning experience his first year in the majors has been.

He was happy to talk about getting a victory Sunday.

"It's been nice," he said. "I've settled down a little the last two starts. Today, I just tried to do the right things — get ahead of hitters. And the guys played great defense behind me.

"Even when I had runners on base, I was able to attack the hitters the way I wanted and I didn't put too much pressure on myself."

That's not always easy for a rookie pitcher in a close game. Pivetta's ability to stay cool and pitch around baserunners in the fifth and sixth innings was a sign of his improvement. He will have one more start before the season ends and is looking to build on two good ones and go into the offseason with a healthy dose of confidence. He will be a candidate for a spot in the rotation next spring.

Sunday's victory left the Phillies at 62-94. They need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses. That once seemed to be a certainty, but they have played well since the All-Star break, recording a 33-36 record since then. They were 29-58 before the break.

Young players such as Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins have come up from the minors and given the Phils a lift in recent weeks. The bullpen has also improved with Ramos, Morgan, Neris and Luis Garcia (before Saturday night) pitching well. Morgan pitched a scoreless eighth inning Sunday. He has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Neris is 18 for 18 in save opportunities since June 28.

The only run that the Phils scored against Gohara came in the fifth when Franco smacked a first-pitch changeup into the left-field seats for his 21st homer. The pitch was on the middle-half of the plate, Franco's happy zone.

Franco is hitting .308 with three homers and seven RBIs since J.P. Crawford came up and applied a little competitive heat.

Franco said that's coincidence, that he's focused only on what he needs to do to get better.

"I think when those young guys come up it always creates an energy spurt in everybody," Mackanin said. "For whatever reason, if Maikel is having a good September, I hope it carries through for five or six months next year. One month does not a good year make. Hopefully, he'll have a better approach and he's going to be more successful."

Phillies-Braves observations: Maikel Franco homers, Nick Pivetta tosses gem in final road game

Phillies-Braves observations: Maikel Franco homers, Nick Pivetta tosses gem in final road game

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ATLANTA — Phillies rookie Nick Pivetta outpitched Atlanta Braves rookie Luiz Gohara Sunday afternoon as the Phils salvaged the final game of a three-game series with a 2-0 win at steamy SunTrust Park.
 
Maikel Franco smacked his 21st homer and Aaron Altherr had an RBI double for the Phillies' two runs.
 
Pivetta (7-10) pitched six shutout innings and the bullpen did the rest.
 
The Phillies ended up with a 13-6 record against Atlanta this season, their best against any team.
 
• Pivetta has mostly struggled in 25 starts in his rookie season, but he's also had some very nice outings where his potential has really shined. This was one of them. His last start, in which he gave up two runs in six innings against the Dodgers, was a good one, too. So the right-hander seems to be finishing on a high note. He will have one more start before the end of the season. In a perfect world, Pivetta would have gotten more time at Triple A this season, but there was a need in the majors. Ultimately, he should benefit from his baptism by fire.
 
• Atlanta lefty Gohara was very good in his fourth big-league start. The 21-year-old from Brazil gave up just five hits, walked two and struck out nine. The only run he gave up came on Franco's homer.
 
• Pivetta did a good job pitching around trouble. He got two outs in the second inning after an error by Franco put a runner on second. He also pitched around sloppy infield play in the fifth. In the sixth, Pivetta knocked down a ball back to the box but was unable to start a double play. He stayed calm and got two outs to get out of the inning.
 
• The Phillies took a 1-0 lead on a solo homer by Franco in the top of the fifth. Franco turned on a first-pitch changeup from Gohara. The pitch was on the inside half of the plate — right in Franco's happy zone. Franco pulls off pitches away in the zone, but he kills mistakes inside. Franco will work on this flaw in winter ball this season (see story).
 
• Altherr doubled home an important insurance run for the Phillies in the eighth inning. Altherr has 61 RBIs on the season and 27 have come in the seventh inning or later.
 
• Good job by the Phillies' bullpen. Edubray Ramos and Adam Morgan pitched scoreless ball in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Morgan has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Hector Neris survived two hits in the ninth and picked up the save. He is perfect on is last 18 chances since June 28.

• The Phillies' first two hits of the game were singles to right field and both runners, Cesar Hernandez and Jorge Alfaro, were out trying to stretch at second base. Braves rightfielder Nick Markakis made two perfect throws. Hernandez needed to come out of the box quicker.
 
• The Phillies have a 35-40 record at home. They will play their final six games of the season at home beginning Monday night with the opener of a three-game series against the NL East champion Washington Nationals. Aaron Nola (12-10, 3.56) pitches against right-hander A.J. Cole (2-5, 4.43) on Monday night. Jake Thompson (2-2, 4.14) opposes lefty Gio Gonzalez (15-7, 2.68) on Tuesday night. Mark Leiter Jr. (3-6, 4.69) and right-hander Tanner Roark (13-10, 4.41) close out the series Wednesday night. The Phillies need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses.