Something strange happened at the ballpark last Friday night as the IronPigs hosted the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees.
Normally, managers have to deal with the righty/lefty match-ups as the game progresses. The chess game of matching up a left-handed pitcher versus a left-handed hitter is something that is quite normal. A switch-hitting batter ads a new dynamic to the equation.
To make it more confusing, Lehigh Valley manager Ryne Sandberg was introduced to something unusual and rare – a switch pitcher. The IronPigs faced Pat Venditte who can pitch effectively with both arms and has a specially-made six-fingered glove fashioned to switch arms on the mound.
"It's impressive and very unique," Sandberg said of Venditte and his career 2.40 ERA in the minors. "If the guys got quality from both sides it may work to his advantage."
It is so rare, baseball had to adopt rules to address the issue. While pitching for the Staten Island Yankees, Venditte faced a switch-hitter. The hitter stepped into the batters box as a right-handed batter. As Venditte switched gloves to pitch with his right hand, the batter stepped across the plate to bat lefty. This prompted Venditte to switch his glove to the left side of the mound.
This comical display made SportsCenter, but severely disrupted the flow of the game. The rule now basically states that a switch-pitcher must declare which arm he will throw with before the batter makes his decision.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Pigs held a 5-4 advantage with reserve catcher/DH John Suomi at the plate. The dynamics of the switch-pitcher posed a dilemma in the IronPig dugout.
"We had a scenario that if Suomi would have got on base I was going to pinch run him with [Rich] Thompson" Sandberg said. "Then we were trying to decide in the dugout if we would rather have [Venditte] be a right-handed pitcher to make it easier for Thompson to steal."
Sandberg then turned to the next hitter, switch-hitting leadoff batter Andres Blanco, and his coaching staff to figure out what to do next.
"We were trying to decide how Blanco was going up to bat," Sandberg said.
The 20-second conversation forced a level of thinking hardly seen in baseball.
"Maybe [Venditte] he would have pitched lefty regardless to hold the runner," Sandberg mused.
All of this came to an end when Suomi belted a homer that ended up to being the deciding run in a 6-5 IronPig win.
Blanco did follow with game of his own by pausing to adjust his batting gloves while standing in one batter's box and then stepping to the other. Venditte, however, won the battle with Blanco flying out but the pitcher took the loss giving up four runs in two innings of work.
"It's pretty cool, it's an odd thing you don't see. Our [switch] hitters are going up there and trying to dictate which way they want to hit," Sandberg said.
CLOYD IL PITCHER OF THE WEEK: Tyler Cloyd, slated to be a stalwart for the Reading Phils (AA), got a spot start when Pig starter Dave Bush was suspended four games to start the season.
His opening day performance of pitching six perfect innings with eight strikeouts landed the 24-year old the International League Player of the Week honor.
He is just the fourth IronPig to win the award and the first since 2010. Previous winners are Justin Lehr (twice), Nelson Figueroa, and Brian Gordon.
YOUNG PITCHERS IMPRESS: Following Cloyd's opening day heroics, Austin Hyatt followed Friday night with a decent performance to gain his first Triple-A win. Their success can be seen in the numbers in the box score. The two youngsters combined to strike out 14 and walk none. It was enough to impress veteran catcher Erik Kratz.
"For a guy to come up in this organization you have to be able to throw strikes or throw a million miles per hour," Kratz said. "Those guys came up and pounded the strike zone. They put our team in the position to win by not giving them free base runners. That's all you can ask for."