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Venters struggles with command against Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Given what he had done the previous two seasons, it was odd to see Jonny Venters surrender a home run in his first appearance of the 2012 spring season. Now, the Braves reliever can only hope it was not the start of a trend.

Venters' latest Grapefruit League debut was tarnished when he allowed a two-run homer to Clint Barmes in the fifth inning of Sunday's 9-2 loss to the Pirates at McKechnie Field. Barmes' shot over the left-field wall came on a 2-2, four-seam fastball that was up and not far enough inside.

Before Barmes' homer, Venters surrendered a double to Gaby Sanchez. The left-handed reliever allowed three hits in his one-inning appearance. He felt his troubles were a result of his inability to command his primary pitch -- the sinking two-seam fastball.

"It was the first outing, and I left some pitches up," Venters said. "But my arm felt good, and my mechanics felt good. I'm obviously not happy with the results. But from a feel standpoint, I feel good about it."

After allowing Mark DeRosa to homer off him in last year's spring debut against the Nationals, Venters did not give up another home run in his final six appearances of the Grapefruit League season. But his arm started to tire after April, and he surrendered six home runs while posting a 6.08 ERA in 31 appearances from May 1-July 4.

Venters had allowed just three home runs while posting a 1.80 ERA in the 173 appearances he made before this rough stretch. When he arrived at Spring Training this year, he admitted that his arm had never felt right during last year's spring season. In the 26 appearances he made after spending two weeks on the disabled list in July, Venters posted a 1.71 ERA and did not allow a home run.

"I definitely feel like my arm has a little more life in it [than it did last year]," Venters said. "I feel good. Warming up was really good. First time in a game is always a little different feeling. I'm positive about it. I really feel good mechanically and physically. I've just got to get the sinker down."