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Former Braves relief ace Jonny Venters could be the story of the year in Tampa Bay

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Is the lefty ready for a major league comeback?

St Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Left-handed pitcher Jonny Venters is somehow still pitching, which feels nothing short of miraculous. The veteran southpaw has undergone THREE Tommy John Surgeries. What’s even more miraculous is that he could actually pitch in meaningful games in just two months.

To do so, Venters will have to prove himself across three levels in the minors, but with the Rays inching toward the playoffs, the stars just might align for the Braves’ former relief ace.

Let’s remember, Venters was incredible

Venters is now close to five years removed from being a member of an incredible Atlanta Braves bullpen, which also featured Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel. While a member of that bullpen, Venters set-up Kimbrel, serving as the eighth inning guy, and one of the best bullpen arms in all of baseball.

From 2010 to 2011, Venters ranked among the top 15 reliever in baseball in fWAR (2.9), while he also had the 6th lowest ERA (1.89) despite pitching the second most innings among relievers (171). Also during this time frame, opponents could only muster a .186 average against him, while he did his best Oppenheimer impression against lefties.

Venters could attack hitters with mid-90’s velocity, that somehow showed tremendous sink almost making him unhittable when he located his pitches, which he did for the most part.

Unfortunately, Venters hit a brick wall in 2012 as his numbers ballooned thanks to some nasty regression. His BABIP soared to .357 while close to a quarter of his flyballs that year left the stadium. It was probably just tough luck rather than him pitching badly.

In 2013, Venters would have to undergo the second Tommy John Surgery of his career (previously underwent TJS in 2005). The third followed in 2014, and a UCL injury in 2016 ended that year’s rehabilitation.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays-Workouts
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jonny Venters (49) laughs at Charlotte Sports Park.
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Rehabilitation in Port Charlotte

Venters is currently pitching with the Rays Gulf Coast League team, who are based in the team’s spring training and player rehabilitation home of Port Charlotte. Venters has made five appearances in the GCL thus far, taking the mound for one inning over each outing, on a set schedule of every three days.

Over those five outings, he has accumulated six strikeouts, while he has allowed four hits, walked a batter, and has yet to allow a run to score.

The Rays re-signed Venters back in early April to allow the former flamethrower another opportunity to try and resurrect his career. Venters underwent his third Tommy John Surgery in September of 2014, where the Rays would sign him to a two year deal the following March with the hopes that with rehab, they’d have a solid bullpen option a year later.

Unfortunately, once Venters began throwing in games, he suffered another tear to his UCL and required another procedure (fortunately, not Tommy John surgery).

Venters hasn’t thrown a major league pitch since October 3rd, 2012 and no one could blame him if he decided to hang up his cleats after that diagnosis, but Venters has become the poster boy for perseverance as he is nearing his return to the majors.

What’s next for Venters?

Venters still has a long road ahead of him in his third season with the Rays, as he has only been facing hitters in the lowest rung of the affiliated latter, but soon he’ll be moved up to the Rays High-A team in Port Charlotte where the level of competition will be vastly improved.

After five clean outings, Venters appears close to his first promotion, from the GCL to the High-A Stone Crabs (who play in the same Spring Training complex). That level was his stumbling block last year, but if all goes well, the Rays may have a surprise addition to the bullpen come September.