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Suburban switch-pitcher

Published: Saturday, May 7, 2011 12:33 a.m. CDT
Caption
Westminster Christian School pitcher Ryan Perez, a 17-year-old junior, throws during a game in Elgin, Ill. With his 90-mph fastball, Perez is one of the dominant high school pitchers in Illinois. And that's just with his right arm. Perez is equally effective with his left, having been clocked at 87 mph from that side.

Ryan Perez uses a 90 mph fastball to dominate his high school opponents.

And that’s just with his right arm.

Perez, a junior at Westminster Christian School in Elgin, throws 87 mph with his left and has four pitches he can throw for strikes with either arm.

Major colleges have been interested in the 17-year-old for a year, and his goal is to become the first switch pitcher in the major leagues since righthanded pitcher Greg Harris dabbled with pitching lefthanded two decades ago.

People have been making a fuss over Perez’s rare ability since his first days in youth ball. A freak, they would call him.

“I hear people say it all the time still,” he said. “This is me. This is who I am. Other people are stunned and say, ‘You can throw both ways. How do you do it?’ I don’t see how it’s a shock. I’ve been doing it all my life.”

Perez is among the very few players who make a serious attempt to throw with both arms.

Bill Olson, the father of former major league closer Gregg Olson and part-owner of the Ultimate Baseball Academy training center in Omaha, Neb., has worked with only two ambidextrous pitchers in his 51 years of coaching at the high school and college levels.

One of them is New York Yankees prospect Pat Venditte, who’s in his second season pitching for the Class AA Trenton Thunder.

“It’s definitely not a trend,” Bill Olson said. “Is it possible for a lot of people? No. A small minority, if they want to spend the time and effort to try to get it done, it might be possible.”

Perez averages better than two strikeouts an inning, has thrown two no-hitters this season and combined for two others with teammate Kevin Elder for the Warriors, the defending Class 1A state champions who defeated Eastland 6-4 in a sectional semifinal last season. In that game, Perez set the school’s single-season strikeout record but allowed four runs in 2 2/3 innings, including a Tyler Giedd home run.

Perez threw a five-inning perfect game left-handed last week, extending his hitless-innings streak to 10.

He’s 3-1 with a 1.52 ERA as a lefty, striking out 50 in 23 innings. He’s 1-0 with a 0.70 ERA from his natural right side, striking out 19 in 10 innings.

His idol, of course, is Venditte.

The baseball world was abuzz over Venditte five years ago when he was switch-pitching for Creighton University in Omaha. He’s now the only ambidextrous pitcher in the pros.

Venditte has spoken with Perez on the phone and encouraged him to keep doing what he’s doing.

“If he’s really throwing 90 right-handed and 87 left-handed, he’s much further along than I was in high school,” the 26-year-old Venditte said. “I was upper 70s, lower 80s with both arms back then. He’s over and beyond where I was. If he can continue that, he would be untouchable in college.”

Perez has proved to be virtually untouchable already. In mid April the 6-foot, 180-pounder threw four perfect innings left-handed against Marengo.

Marengo coach Jeff Dobbertin said there had been talk before the game about Westminster having an ambidextrous pitcher.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Dobbertin thought.

Count him among the believers now.

Perez throws a changeup, curve and cutter for strikes in addition to his fastball, and he used them all effectively against Marengo.

Dobbertin said Perez’s mechanics as a lefty are so good that at first he couldn’t tell whether Perez was the switch pitcher he had heard about or a natural left-hander.

Perez pitches with the same arm for an entire inning. Last year he tried switching arms based on right-righty, lefty-lefty matchups. He found that the inactive arm would cool down too much if he pitched with the other arm three or four batters in a row.

Perez said he knows he’ll have to adjust to switching arms by the batter if he’s going to get the full benefit of his gift.

Perez, like Venditte, was molded into a switch pitcher by his father, though Pat Venditte Sr. and Juan Perez used different methods. The elder Venditte had his son throw footballs left-handed to develop arm strength. Juan Perez said he tried to make up fun drills that required Ryan to use his left arm.

Ryan said one of his earliest memories is of being with his father and trying to skip rocks across a pond using both arms.

As young as 5, he would spend two hours a day working on baseball skills with his dad. Much of that time was spent developing throwing motions with both arms.

Ryan said he’s never considered choosing one arm over the other. His goal is to throw 90 mph with both.

“If I was just throwing right-handed and put as much effort into it as I do both ways,” he said, “I’d probably be throwing 95.”

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