Jonny Venters never really looked quite right in 2012. He enters Spring Training this season hoping to regain his 2010 and 2011 form with the Atlanta Braves. Along with left-handed pitcher Eric O’Flaherty, Venters will have the duty of playing setup man to All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel. Many experts have tabbed the Braves with the best bullpen in the MLB, and much of that depends on the success of Venters.
2012 Recap: Venters had a serviceable year for the Braves in posting a 3.22 ERA and striking out 69 batters in just over 58 innings. Comparing those numbers to his previous two years in which he looked unhittable (1.95 and 1.84 ERA) gives the impression of a down year. Part of the problem was an elbow injury that forced Venters to head to the disabled list in early July. The 4.45 ERA he posted before heading to the disabled list and the 1.76 he posted after being activated indicates it at least played a role in his struggles. Venters made just two appearances in which he allowed an earned run after being activated in primarily a 7th inning role.
2013 Outlook: Venters recently told MLB.com’s Mark Bowman that he is feeling healthy this Spring Training. “I feel like I’m getting back to where I was before last year. I’m pretty excited about it. Everything feels pretty good.” That’s good news for Braves’ fans and step one toward Venters having a rebound season. He also added that he has conditioned better this offseason in comparison to last year when he didn’t start throwing until a month before Spring Training. That was after making a career-high 85 appearances in 2011, but the decision clearly didn’t pay dividends for him.
If Venters is healthy, then there is reason to believe he will return to one of the best setup men in baseball. He has one of the best pitches in baseball – a sinker that moves down and in on left-handed hitters that hits mid to upper 90s on the radar. He combines that with a hard slider which gives him good enough stuff to serve as a closer on a lot of MLB teams. At some point I see Venters being the primary 8th inning guy in 2013. Manager Fredi Gonzalez has the options to ride the hot hand, but Venters’ splits against right and left-handed batters aren’t as severe as O’Flaherty in their careers (Venters: .191 vs LHB and .221 vs RHB; O’Flaherty: .203 and .274). Velocity and command will be interesting to watch with Venters this Spring Training. Those will be early signs of which Venters the Braves will get in 2013.