ATLANTA -- A week after welcoming Jonny Venters back from the injured list, Braves manager Brian Snitker dealt with the painful responsibility of having to say goodbye to the beloved left-handed reliever, who has not been able to rekindle the success he experienced during last year’s improbable return to the
ATLANTA -- A week after welcoming Jonny Venters back from the injured list, Braves manager Brian Snitker dealt with the painful responsibility of having to say goodbye to the beloved left-handed reliever, who has not been able to rekindle the success he experienced during last year’s improbable return to the Majors.
Though Venters experienced some misfortune during the nearly disastrous ninth inning of Friday night’s 12-8 win over the Brewers, his extended struggles against left-handers led the Braves to give him his unconditional release on Saturday. Jerry Blevins, who was designated for assignment and outrighted to Triple-A Gwinnett earlier this week, was brought back up to now serve as Atlanta’s left-handed specialist.
When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster, and 25-man roster if he was on that as well. Within seven days of the transaction (it was previously 10 days), the player must either be traded, released or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.
“You get attached to players when you have them,” Snitker said. “I’ve been here a long time with him. Then you know what he’s gone through and what he’s overcome. That wasn’t a normal conversation. That was very hard.”
Venters was named the 2018 National League Comeback Player of the Year Award winner after he returned to the Majors for the first time since ‘12 and posted a 3.67 ERA over 34 1/3 innings (50 appearances) for the Rays and Braves. His return was celebrated as the baseball world marveled at his ability to continue to be effective after undergoing what he has described as 3 1/2 Tommy John surgeries.
Nobody expected Venters to suddenly return to the dominance he displayed while producing a 2.23 ERA over 230 appearances for Atlanta from 2010-12. Nor was there reason to think he would struggle as much as he has -- surrendering nine hits and issuing eight walks while facing just 31 batters this year. His 17.36 ERA comes as a result of allowing 13 runs -- nine earned -- over just 4 2/3 innings.
While Venters’ velocity has remained the same, he has not been able to produce the same heavy sink that provided him success in the past. The 16 balls put in play against him this year have had a 97.7 mph exit velocity (88.6 mph in 2018) and an average launch angle of 11.4 (-4.4 in ‘18). Consequently, his ground-ball rate has dropped from 71.3 percent to 50 percent, and his barrel rate has jumped from three percent to 25 percent.
After Venters struggled through this season’s first six appearances, the Braves placed him on the injured list and allowed him to spend a few weeks attempting to get right with Triple-A Gwinnett. The veteran reliever notched a one-out save against the D-backs on May 11, but he allowed at least three runs in two of the three post-injury appearances that have followed. Venters was a pitch away from recording three strikeouts in what would have been a perfect ninth Friday night. But after third-base umpire James Hoye did not ring Mat Gamel up on a checked swing, Gamel walked, and Dansby Swanson booted the grounder that followed.
When Snitker was asked if Venters would have incurred the same fate had he not been saddled by these misfortunes, he said, “Probably not today, but it’s kind of been like that for a while. His arm feels good, and he’s turning the ball loose. There’s just something mechanical in there to where [the ball] is not sinking like it should. He needs to work that out, and I don’t know if we’re able to give him that option here.”
Right-handed hitters have gone 5-for-11 with two homers against Venters, who at this point of his career is best limited to use as a left-handed specialist. But he walked both of the left-handed hitters he faced Friday and surrendered a three-run homer to one of the two lefties he faced in Tuesday’s loss to the Cardinals.
Venters retired just eight of the 18 left-handed batters faced this season, allowing four hits and issuing six walks in the process. He limited lefties to a .200 on-base percentage last year.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.