Mike Venafro is a 33-year-old journeyman middle reliever who is competing for a spot in the bullpen. Venafro has been with five teams on the major league level and several more in spring training and in the minors.
Venafro is a sidearm pitcher with a career 4.09 ERA. This spring training he has been mistaken for fellow sidearm pitcher Pat Neshek by some fans. No one will mistake his dazzling spring performance with no runs, two hits, two walks and four strikeouts in five innings of relief.
With the Twins looking for a second left-handed pitcher in the bullpen to compliment Dennys Reyes, Venafro has a shot to make the roster.
Q: In the offseason you signed a minor league contract with the Twins. How does that type of contract work?
A: They call them split contracts. Basically how it is setup is if you make the big league team, these are the stipulations, whether you have incentives or not. If you don't make the team and they want to keep you, this is your deal for the minor leagues.
Q: Is there any adjustment of going from team to team?
Mike Venafro has given up no runs in five innings of relief this spring. Brainerd Dispatch/Trevor Williams » Purchase reprints of this photo.
A: The first few times there is an adjustment. But now for me I go to an organization and know at least one person and I'm fortunate for that. It makes the adjustment a lot easier.
Q: What about differences in philosophies between pitching coaches?
A: Sometimes there are differences. Most of the time they watch you in the beginning to see where you are coming from. Then they will make adjustments that way. Unless you are way off and then the coach might say something.
Q: You didn't become a sidearm pitcher until college. How did that happen?
A: I didn't go on a trip with the team my sophomore year. They went on their annual spring trip. I went back home and I wanted to do something new. I had tinkered with throwing sidearm a little bit in high school. I decided to re-unveil myself as this new kind of pitcher.
So I came back and said coach this is what I'm going to do. He said he was fine with it. And I really didn't get it together until my senior year of college.
Q: Do you think there are any distinct advantages of throwing sidearm?
A: For me, it came easier. If it didn't come easy, it wouldn't work. As an approach, as a sidearm pitcher, since there are so few of us out there, you can get away with more in the middle of the plate. You also have the advantage of delivery with a different release point.
Q: What are your best pitches?
A: My sinker is my best pitch. For most sidearmers, that's their best pitch.
Q: You're going up against other relievers like Randy Choate for the left-handed relief spot in the Twins bullpen. What's that situation like for you?
A: That's pretty much what I've known for most of my career. I've only been locked in a couple times. For me, that's just the way it is. I think competition is good. I wish everyone took that approach to spring training. They would get more out of spring training. It keeps it lively and brings the best out of guys most of the time.
Q: Can you be friends with the other relievers you're competing against?
A: Absolutely, that's why I know so many people. I don't come in grumpy. That doesn't help!
Q: As you get into your mid-30's, do you feel the clock beginning to tick on your career?
A: I don't know. You hear a lot of old people say "I still feel young!" And I do. I may not be able to bounce back like some of the younger guys, but I do pretty good for my age.
Q: Last season you found out that some back discomfort was caused by wearing the wrong foot pad in your shoe?
A: Oh yeah - how about that one! It's orthotics (devices like lifts or braces which help support limbs). You get fitted for it every spring training.
I guess it was about six or seven years ago when I was with Texas. They ordered their stock through the computer. I never paid much attention to it because it was all computerized. I wasn't too familiar.
Year after year I kept wearing the same orthotic. When I went into Mets camp last year, the company I had been using went out of business. The Mets said, "We'll refit you." So they refitted me.
But there was some confusion. I brought my old ones in. I said, "Just give me the same thing." They said, "We'll give you the same thing, but you have the lift in the wrong foot."
I said, "What are you talking about? This is what I've been wearing." And they explained there was a quarter of an inch difference in my legs and it had been in the wrong foot for six years.
You go through all these aches and pains in spring training. I was going through all aches and pains because I was getting used to making one leg half an inch longer than the other.
Q: Middle relievers like yourself seem to have become well-seasoned travelers between teams. Why do you think that trend has emerged?
A: It's usually the last piece on a team. There's a lot things that need to be sorted out first like starting rotation. A bullpen is usually built around a young starting rotation. You need to keep the bullpens versatile, have an extra guy in the bullpen who can be a starter.
Also a lot of times if they can find a younger guy to be a reliever and he's less expensive, they may do that.
Q: During the minors, you were a substitute teacher at your old high school in Virginia?
A: Yes, that's right. All my brothers and sisters went through there. It was neat to get to know them that way. Now I have five kids of my own now and that's all the teaching I need.
Q: A couple years ago, there was an Associated Press media leak where people found out your online screen name?
A: I got about 500 instant messages that night because I was on my AOL account. I just start getting hammered so I started responding. About six hours later my wife said, "This is ridiculous" and I didn't even know time had passed. I was finding out what had happened.
Then someone sent me the list (of leaked phone numbers and emails including Kareem Abdul Jabar and George W. Bush). I said, "This is unbelievable!"
TREVOR WILLIAMS, sports copy editor, can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5866.
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