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.

Donald Trump declines invitation to throw out 1st pitch on opening day

Donald Trump declines invitation to throw out 1st pitch on opening day

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals say President Donald Trump has declined an invitation to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before their game on opening day.

A spokeswoman for the baseball team said Tuesday that the White House said Trump would not be at next week's game at Nationals Park against the Miami Marlins because of a scheduling conflict.

Washington hosts Miami next Monday afternoon.

President Barack Obama threw the ceremonial first pitch at the Nationals' opener in 2010, marking the 100th anniversary of a presidential pitch to start the season. William Howard Taft first did it on April 14, 1910.

Rays: Acquire former Phillie Bourjos from White Sox
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Tampa Bay Rays have bolstered their outfield depth, acquiring speedy Peter Bourjos from the Chicago White Sox for cash or a player to be named.

The deal Tuesday potentially provides the Rays with a right-handed hitting backup for Gold Glove center fielder Kevin Kiermaier.

Bourjos hit .251 with five homers and 23 RBIs in 123 games with the Philadelphia Phillies last season. He signed a minor league contract with the White Sox on Jan. 30 and batted .313 in 19 spring training games.

The 29-year-old has also played for the Los Angeles Angels and St. Louis Cardinals over seven seasons.

The White Sox also announced left-handed pitchers Cory Luebke and Matt Purke were assigned to minor league camp.

Indians: IF Ramirez signs 5-year deal
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Cleveland Indians signed versatile infielder Jose Ramirez to a five-year, $26 million contract.

Ramirez's deal includes club options for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

The sides agreed to the deal last week and Ramirez passed his physical to finalize a contract Tuesday that locks up one of Cleveland's core players for the future. The Indians have also had talks with All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor this spring about a long-term deal.

The 24-year-old Ramirez had a breakout season in 2016, when he helped the Indians win their first AL pennant since 1997.

In his first major league season, Ramirez batted .312 with 46 doubles, 11 home runs, 76 RBIs and 22 steals. He played four positions and hit in every spot in Cleveland's batting order, picking up the offensive slack after left fielder Michael Brantley was limited to just 11 games following right shoulder surgery.

Phillies 2017 betting guide: Individual player over-unders

Phillies 2017 betting guide: Individual player over-unders

With less than a week until opening day, let's take a look at some Phillies over-unders for the 2017 season, courtesy of Bovada:

Maikel Franco: O/U .265 BA, 24.5 HR, 85.5 RBIs
Franco hit .255 with 25 home runs and 88 RBIs last season, his first full year in the majors.

Those weren't bad stats for a 23-year-old, but Franco fell short of the lofty expectations set for him by the Phillies and their fans. There was a lot of "future MVP" talk before last season, as well as an endorsement from Mike Schmidt that Franco has a chance to be a better defensive third baseman than Schmidt himself was.

Advice: I'd go under .265, over 24.5 HR and over 85.5 RBIs.

The reasoning? I just think Franco is, long-term, going to be a .260ish hitter. There are legitimate flaws in his swing, approach and, at times, his concentration. Franco gave away far too many at-bats last season, and while I do think he learned from that, I don't think he's going to, within a year, significantly improve upon his ability to lay off breaking balls low and out of the zone.

Franco isn't a fast runner, either, so infield hits will be hard to come by.

The homers and RBIs, however, seem like safe bets to go over. Franco had more homers and RBIs than Vegas' projection with less lineup protection last season. And his power is real enough that I don't see him finishing a full season with fewer than 25 homers.

With a 1-2-3 of Cesar Hernandez, Howie Kendrick and Odubel Herrera, Franco's RBI opportunities should be plentiful.

Tommy Joseph: O/U 24.5 HR, 70.5 RBIs
I'm going under on both.

Joseph hit 21 home runs last season in just 347 plate appearances. That's a full-season pace of 32 HR. But that's not how baseball works -- think about how many times over the years we looked at Darin Ruf's numbers in limited time and extrapolated them over a full year.

Now, Joseph and Ruf are different players. Joseph is a better hitter, simple and plain. He has a better idea at the plate, and midway through last season Joseph showed an ability to adjust. There was a little over a week there when he couldn't catch up to any above-average fastballs. From June 27-July 3, Joseph went 0 for 16 and struck out four times in a game in Arizona. It made some start to wonder if he was just a flash in the pan.

But Joseph responded by going 14 for his next 28 with five homers and two doubles.

My rationale for going under with Joseph's HR and RBI numbers in 2017: 

• He's been injury-prone throughout his career so a season-long over bet doesn't feel safe. 

• Pitchers always adjust to a hitter in the hitter's second season.

• The Phillies have multiple players who can play first base, so I don't expect Joseph to start, say, 140 games. When he's slumping, the Phils could do something like move Kendrick to first base and start Aaron Altherr in left field. Or they could put Brock Stassi (assuming he makes the team) at first against a tough righty.

Odubel Herrera: O/U .280 BA, 22.5 steals
I'm easily taking the over on both. 

What has Herrera done through two years to make us think he won't reach .280? He hit .297 as a rookie and .286 last season, and if anything those two years felt like less than his potential, not more. I don't think Herrera's going to hit .330 this year, but I could definitely see a .310 in his near future as he continues to grow.

Herrera's speed and his ability to hit lefties along with righties makes this a pretty safe over bet.

As far as the stolen bases, Herrera went 25 for 32 last season, and now has a first base coach in Mickey Morandini who is focused on improving his players' jumps. 

Herrera had a .361 OBP last season. When you get on base that much and you're fast, you're in position to steal plenty of bases. 

Put me down for a .312 batting average and 31 steals for El Torito.

Cesar Hernandez: O/U .285, 25.5 steals
This one is tougher. I think the signs Hernandez showed in the second half last season were real, and I expect him to post a .350-plus on-base percentage, but I'm not fully confident that he'll exceed .285.

Would it be all that surprising if Hernandez hit something like .282 with a .360 OBP? I don't feel great about the batting average bet.

As far as the stolen bases, I'm taking the under, despite the aforementioned addition of Morandini. Hernandez has well-above-average speed, but he just hasn't proven to be an instinctive or efficient base stealer. He went 17 for 30 last season, becoming the first player since Brady Clark in 2005 to be caught at least 13 times in 30 or fewer attempts.

If the number was 20.5 or 22.5, I think I'd take the over. But 25.5 is a bit high for Cesar.

Howie Kendrick: O/U .275 BA
Taking the over. Kendrick hit .255 last season. He was also moved all over the field and all over the lineup by the Dodgers.

In the 10 seasons before last, Kendrick hit over .275 every year and hit .285 or better nine times.

He's a good singles hitter, and .275 is not a high benchmark. Unless Kendrick's skills have just completely eroded, this one feels safe.

Jerad Eickhoff and Jeremy Hellickson: O/U 10.5 wins each
Both pitchers were models of consistency last season -- Eickhoff made 33 starts and had a 3.65 ERA; Hellickson made 32 with a 3.71 ERA.

Both guys keep you in the game. Both guys will benefit from an improved offense and bullpen. And both go deep into games regularly enough to factor into the decision.

I feel slightly better about Hellickson's chances because the possibility exists that he'll be traded to a contender by the deadline, which would only enhance his chances of getting a bit more run support and being in position for an additional win or two. 

But I'd take the over on both.