This time last year, Jonny Venters came to the pre-spring pitching camp at Turner Field a virtual unknown. Nobody outside maybe the coaches’ offices knew of his 95 mph sinker, and even that didn’t do much for his nerves.
“I’d never been to the stadium,” Venters said. “I was so nervous. (Pitching coach) Roger (McDowell) was watching me throw my bullpen, and I was like ‘Oh my gosh.’ I think I threw five strikes the whole time. ‘They’re going to send me home.’”
This time around, he still has the giddiness. “It’s still cool for me to walk through here,” he said. But throw in some serious expectation on top.
With the retirement of Billy Wagner, Venters and rookie Craig Kimbrel are candidates for the closer’s job.
“I didn’t think too much about what role I’d be in,” said Venters, who tied for sixth among all NL relievers with a 1.95 ERA in 79 games as a rookie last season. “I just want to go out and attack hitters and wherever that takes me in terms of my role, I just want to do whatever it is I can to help this team back to the playoffs.”
Venters has gained 10 pounds of muscle hoping to improve his stamina late in the season, saying “My stuff was not as sharp as it was early.”
He’s also planning to focus on his fielding as he enters spring training. A couple of throws into center field on double-play balls have stuck in his craw.
“Being a groundball guy, I have to be good at fielding my position,” Venters said. “It’s definitely something I want to improve on.”