After the worst two months of his career, Braves reliever Jonny Venters was placed on the 15-day disabled list with elbow inflammation Thursday and left-hander Luis Avilan was brought up from the minor leagues to fill the bullpen vacancy. Avilan has never pitched above Double-A.
The Braves say Venters has an “impingement” but that his elbow is structurally sound and no MRI exam is planned. He was examined by the Braves’ orthopedic specialist. Manager Fredi Gonzalez thinks Venters will be ready to rejoin the Braves after the minimum stay on the DL, a week after play resumes following the All-Star break.
“When I talked to our medical people, they said it wasn’t serious,” said Gonzalez, who made no mention of a Venters injury after Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to the Cubs, when the lefty let in a run on a wild pitch and gave up a home run one pitch later. “But I think the combination of the inflammation, the impingement of the elbow, and the way things are going — I think this would be a good time to go back to square 1, work on some things that he needs to work on, and then come back out.
“We need him in the second half of the season. Not like the 2011 Jonny Venters, but somewhere between last year and what we’ve seen this year.”
Gonzalez said Venters didn’t say anything to him about the injury before the manager’s postgame interview with reporters Wednesday, and that when he found out later it was the first time Venters had said anything about the sore elbow.
“Yesterday was the first time” he mentioned it, Gonzalez said. “Those bullpen guys, it’s a tough job…. But this is the first time that he’s had a complaint. And with everything going on, go ahead and shut him down, let him regroup and let him catch up. Like I said, I think when the 15 days are up that he’ll be ready to go.”
Venters has a 4.45 ERA in 40 appearances this season, after posting a 1.89 ERA in 164 appearances during the past two seasons when he was arguably the best non-closer reliever in baseball.
He has a 6.08 ERA and .343 opponents’ average in 31 appearances since May 1. The sinkerballer allowed six homers in 21 innings over his past 28 appearances, after allowing only three homers in 182-1/3 innings over his previous 176 career appearances.
Venters said he had minor soreness “off and on” during the season but that it hadn’t flared up significantly until the past couple of days.
“There’s been times where it’s been sore, but I don’t think it’s been the reason I struggled,” said Venters, who was asked many times by reporters in the past two months whether he was injured, and always said his arm felt great, other than a period where he was rested for a few days for shoulder soreness. “My struggles have just been attributed to me not being able to make adjustments and make pitches when I needed to.
“As a result, I think trying to make so many adjustments has made my arm sore. I just think coming back I want to have a delivery and stick with it, focus more on making good pitches. I can’t be out there worrying about mechanics and timing and my arm not feeling good. I’ve just got to get back to competing and attacking guys with my sinker.”
Braves closer Craig Kimbrel had the fewest baserunners allowed per nine innings (6.9) among National League relievers before Thursday, while Venters (17.5) had the second-most allowed among major league relievers. Kimbrel led NL relievers with a .126 opponents’ average, while Venters’ .313 was the third-worst in the NL, one spot ahead of Livan Hernandez (.326), who is with Milwaukee after being released by the Braves.
Braves Kris Medlen and Venters were tied with Colorado’s Esmil Rogers for fifth-worst percentage of inherited runners stranded (53.3) among NL relievers. Each has allowed seven of 15 inherited runners to score.
Venters said general manager Frank Wren called him Thursday morning to tell him what the Braves planned to do.
“We talked about it and we felt like it was the best thing for the team and for myself,” Venters said. “In order for me to contribute and be a part of this team, I have to be right. I have to be healthy and, you know, be the guy from last year or whatever….
“I need to be right. I need to feel good, and feel confident and be ready to go. And at the same time, they need to have somebody there that can throw in Philadelphia [during this weekend’s series] and be confident in.”
Venters said he’ll resume throwing as soon as the symptoms are gone. Gonzalez indicated that he could make a couple of appearances at Triple-A Gwinnett before being activated, but there was not specific plan yet.
Venters threw back-to-back sliders on the wild pitch and home run Wednesday. In the past, he relied almost exclusively on his 94-95 mph sinkers, which were devastating against right- or left-handed hitters.
“The fastball [sinker] hasn’t been very good, so I’ve been trying to attack guys in different ways, throw some different pitches,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you’re not getting it done the way you normally do, you have to make an adjustment and try something new. [But] I don’t think it had any effect at all [on the elbow].
“Mechanically you go day to day [based upon] how you’re feeling. For me it kind of escalated over time where I was on the mound worrying about things I shouldn’t have been worrying about. I should have been worrying about making a quality pitch and just competing, as opposed to my timing or how my arm was doing.”