ATLANTA -- The Nationals signed veteran left-handed reliever Jonny Venters to a Minor League deal Wednesday, the latest addition to a carousel of veteran relievers the club has signed since the start of the year to try and cure their ailing bullpen.
Venters, who won the 2018 National League Comeback Player of the Year Award, was released by the Braves earlier this month after giving up 13 runs (nine earned) in nine appearances this season, a 17.36 ERA with more hits (nine) and walks (eight) than strikeouts (seven). He was an effective reliever a year ago, however, posting a 3.67 ERA in 50 games with the Braves and Rays while holding lefties to a slash line of .133/.200/.200 with just two extra base hits in 60 at-bats. The Nats assigned the 34-year-old lefty to Double-A Harrisburg.
“He’s a prominent left-handed pitcher,” manager Dave Martinez said. “He's pitched well, pitched in some high leverage situations for other teams, so nothing is set in stone yet, but once he gets going, he’s another veteran guy that we can use later on down the line.”
Venters pitched in the Majors last season for the first time since 2012 after enduring three Tommy John surgeries and a strenuous rehab to return to the big leagues. Even though he has not enjoyed the same success this season, his sinker velocity has averaged 93.2 mph, an encouraging sign for the Nationals to bet on a bounce back if his stuff still remains.
Washington owns baseball’s worst bullpen by ERA, carrying a 7.14 team total into Wednesday’s series finale in Atlanta, but the Nats cannot be said to not have attempted to fix it.
Since the start of the season, the Nationals have signed and tried out veteran free-agent relievers such as lefty Dan Jennings, who made eight appearances before being designated for assignment and ultimately electing free agency; Javy Guerra, who was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays a week ago, but has appeared in just two games in the Majors since; and George Kontos, who signed a Minor League deal less than a week ago, but has tossed a pair of scoreless appearances for Triple-A Fresno.
Sanchez activated from injured list
Right-hander Anibal Sanchez was activated from the injured list Wednesday, prior to his return to the mound against his former team at SunTrust Park. Right-hander James Bourque was optioned to Fresno to clear room on the 25-man roster.
Sanchez flirted with perfection, retiring the first 16 batters that he faced before Ozzie Albies singled in the sixth inning of the Nationals' 14-4 win. Sanchez finished his performance with six scoreless frames to his credit, allowing just one hit and one walk while striking out seven, earning his first victory in a Nationals uniform.
Sanchez had been on the injured list since May 17 with a left hamstring strain, which cost the Nats only a turn through the rotation. He had struggled mightily before his injury, posting an 0-6 record with a 5.10 ERA in nine starts.
“He spent a lot of time breaking down how the season was going for him,” Martinez said. “Other than the little nuances in the beginning, he hasn’t really pitched that bad. He’s had some tough breaks, so I tell him, he’s a veteran guy, 'Keep us in the game and you do you.' I know that he figured some things out that might help him.”
The Nationals were comfortable activating Sanchez from the injured list without a Minor League rehab assignment because of how short his stint on the sidelines was. He threw a pair of simulated games this past weekend at Nationals Park, the first coming Friday, before following up with a 56-pitch outing Sunday afternoon. He took reps coming off the mound to cover first base and ran the bases to test his hamstring and the Nats thought he looked comfortable.
Hellickson shut down from throwing
Even after landing on the injured list with a right shoulder strain, Nats starter Jeremy Hellickson had planned to continue throwing in order to prevent the amount of time he would spend sidelined. But his shoulder did not respond the way the Nationals wanted, so Martinez said Wednesday that Hellickson will be shut down for the time being.
“It was the bouncing back that got him,” Martinez said. “I thought by letting him throw and adding a long toss program, that it would help him, but he just said that his shoulder hasn’t bounced back. So, we just shut him down. We want him to strengthen his shoulder so he can come back and help us.”
Hellickson has posted a 6.23 ERA in nine games (eight starts) this season while recording an out beyond the fifth inning on just three occasions. Erick Fedde has filled in nicely in the rotation for now, giving the Nationals no incentive to rush Hellickson back into the rotation. Hellickson was not traveling with the team during the current road trip in Atlanta and Cincinnati because Martinez said they wanted him to remain back in D.C. to work on strengthening his shoulder.