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ANTA -- One year after being selected to his first All-Star Game, Jonny Venters finds himself searching for answers and hoping to soon regain the successful form he possessed the previous two seasons.
The Braves placed Venters on the 15-day disabled list on Thursday with a left elbow impingement. It's a move that should aid the left-handed reliever both physically and mentally. The once dominant pitcher has allowed opponents to compile a .313 batting average and .412 on-base percentage in his 40 appearances this year.
"I think this will be a good time for him to go back to square one, work on some things he needs to work on and then come back up," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We need him."
Gonzalez paid the price when he opted to take the risk of bringing Venters into Wednesday night's one-run game against the Cubs with a runner on second and none out in the seventh inning. After uncorking a wild pitch that allowed an inherited runner to score and surrendering another home run, the always-tough reliever told the Braves he felt some discomfort behind his left elbow.
Braves physician Dr. Xavier Duralde did not find reason for concern after examining Venters' elbow and determined there was not a need to perform an MRI exam. The team can only hope that the discomfort and struggles are gone when its former All-Star reliever returns in two weeks.
"I feel as soon as those 15 days are up, we'll have him back," Gonzalez said. "I really do. It's nothing major. We're just going to give him a little break."
There is a chance Venters could begin a Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett during the latter portion of next week. Unlike the days leading up to Brandon Beachy learning he needed to undergo Tommy John surgery, there does not seem to be much reason for concern about this elbow injury.
"It's one of those things you try to manage," Venters said. "It's just the last few days it's gotten tougher. There are only so many times you can get a shot and take three or four days off. I needed an extended period of time to get better."
Venters received a cortisone shot to relieve some inflammation that formed in the upper portion of his left arm during Spring Training. He then went through eight April appearances without allowing a run. But in the 31 appearances he has made since the start of May, he has posted a 6.08 ERA and allowed opponents to produce a .440 on-base percentage with a .576 slugging percentage.
While proving to be one of the game's most reliable relievers last year, Venters limited opponents to a .176 batting average, .289 on-base percentage and .219 slugging percentage.
"My struggles have been attributed to me just not being able to make adjustments and make pitches when I needed to," Venters said. "I think trying to make so many adjustments made my arm sore."
After surrendering just three home runs in the first 182 1/3 innings of his career, Venters has allowed six in the 21 innings that have followed.
Venters' struggles could be a product of the wear and tear that occurred as he combined for a Major League-high 125 appearances in 2010 and 2011. He limited opponents to a .218 batting average and posted a 2.54 ERA during this span.
According to FanGraphs, the average velocity of Venters' fastball has dropped from 94.7 mph to 93.5 mph. Last year, his fastball accounted for 79.7 percent of the pitches he threw. This year, that number has dipped to 62.4 percent.
But Venters believes his discomfort and struggles are simply a product of his inability to get comfortable with a consistent delivery the past two months.
"When I come back, I want to have a delivery and stick with it," Venters said. "I want to focus more on making good pitches. I can't be out there worrying about mechanics and everything else. I've got to get back to competing and attacking guys with my sinker."
Venters' roster spot will be filled by Luis Avilan, who has posted a 3.23 ERA in 16 appearances (12 starts) with Double-A Mississippi this year. The 22-year-old left-handed pitcher recorded 55 strikeouts and issued 31 walks in 61 1/3 innings.