CINCINNATI – The Braves got a got a welcome piece of good news Friday when standout reliever Jonny Venters’ four-game suspension was rescinded entirely.
The decision came three days after a hearing in Washington, D.C., where the Braves appealed the suspension the rookie left-hander received after hitting Milwaukee slugger Prince Fielder with a pitch on July 17.
Venters continued to pitch during the appeals process, and the Braves hoped he wouldn’t have to miss all or most of a three-game series that began Friday at Cincinnati, the National League Central leader.
“I was ready for it to get over with,” said Venters, who found out just after noon Friday when teammate Mike Dunn sent him a text message congratulating him. “I was kind of down about it the last few days. It was a relief [to have the suspension overturned]. I feel good about it.”
So did his teammates, who were pleased to have the young sinkerballer available Friday to face the power-laden Reds in their home run-friendly ballpark.
Venters ranked second among NL relievers in lowest ERA (1.07) and sixth in lowest opponents’ batting average (.170).
“Our best reliever,” closer Billy Wagne said. “It’s big. When you’re looking at coming into a place like this, you need all your horses. If he misses anytime it hurts us in that bullpen. It should have never have happened to begin with. But knowing it’s been wiped away, it’s big for us.”
Venters’ $2,500 fine was also reduced, though he wasn’t sure by how much.
It’s common for suspensions to be reduced, but not thrown out entirely. The decision came from John McHale Jr., Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of administration. Manager Bobby Cox, who participated in Tuesday’s hearing, was thrilled with the ruling.
“It was not intentional,” he said of the incident with Fielder. “It was completely accidental.”
During the 90-minute hearing., Venters and several Braves officials spoke, including general manager Frank Wren, Cox and pitching coach Roger McDowell.
“I just kind of explained what happened,” Venters said, “that I understood why we were there, how it looked, but that I’m not that kind of player. Guys who know me know I’m not that kind of player.”
The team’s video coordinator showed other errant pitches Venters threw this season, in situations where there would clearly have been no intent to throw at batters. Cox said Venters had hit more than 30 batters in his pro career, all but one left-handed (Fielder bats left-handed).
“That’s just the way I miss, the way the ball [travels],” Venters said.
Venters and Cox were both ejected after Venters hit Fielder in the back with a sinking fastball in the eighth inning. The ejections came after the home-plate umpire issued a warning following the pitch before, a slider over Fielder’s head.
Fielder had homered in the previous inning off Tim Hudson. The Brewers’ stout slugger was also hit by a pitch the night before by Tommy Hanson, one batter after Ryan Braun homered.
Cox conceded after the July 17 game that the situations didn’t look good and he understood why the Brewers would be angry, but was adamant about Braves pitchers not throwing at the Brewers.
Cox was also ejected from the the July 17 game at the same time as Venters, because of the warning that had been issued. Cox already served a one-game suspension.
In his past 20 appearances before Friday, Venters had a 0.42 ERA and .143 opponents’ average.