NEW YORK – Two weeks after Jonny Venters was encouraged by his rehab progress and hopeful of returning this season, the Braves left-hander has been shut down again and will have his twice-surgically-repaired elbow examined by Dr. James Andrews.
Venters left the team during the weekend in Cincinnati and returned to Atlanta, then to see Andrews at the renowned surgeon’s clinic outside Pensacola, Fla. Andrews did both Tommy John surgeries on Venters’ pitching elbow in May 2013 and 2005, and also gave him the platelet-rich plasma injection in June in hopes of alleviating lingering soreness and inflammation.
He resumed his throwing program a month later, and Venters was optimistic after his initial sessions throwing off a mound in early August. But the soreness eventually returned.
“He was scheduled to throw (off a mound) a couple of times during the road trip, and he just couldn’t do it.” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “So he’s going to go see Dr. Andrews in Pensacola, just to take a look at it and see what’s going on.”
Venters, 29, is trying to join the relatively small group of pitchers to return to high-level pitching after a second Tommy John surgery to reconstruct the ulnar collateral ligament. Two other Braves pitchers, starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, had their second TJ surgeries in March and are about to begin the initial stages of their post-surgery throwing programs, in hopes of returning at some point during the 2015 season.
Medlen has had no setbacks and said he feels terrific and confident that he will pitch next season. Braves general manager Frank Wren is taking a cautiously optimistic outlook with Medlen and Beachy.
“So far, so good,” Wren said. “It’s always great for them to do well in this early part of the rehab, but I don’t put a whole lot of stock in anything until they get on the mound. Once they get on the mound and start throwing with some effort, then you start getting a better sense of how they’re progressing.”
Venters is a good example of that. One of the truly dominant relief pitchers in baseball in his first two seasons – 1.95 ERA in 75 appearances in 2010, 1.84 ERA in 85 appearances in 2011 – his performance slipped some in 2012, when Venters pitched with sporadic elbow problems and still posted a 3.22 ERA in 66 appearances.
He hasn’t pitched since blowing the ligament late in 2013 spring training, and it’s now uncertain when, or even if, he’ll make it back. The Braves, at least publicly, are optimistic, pointing out that the recovery from a second Tomm John surgery tends to be longer than the 12-14 month recovery from a first surgery.
“They’re not always on the same (recovery) schedule,” Wren said. “That’s why we’re always so careful about the rehab process and not being very specific, because it is very individualized in how guys bounce back. Hopefully it’s just another temporary setback.”
Gonzalez said Venters, a hard worker and one of the more popular Braves in the clubhouse, texted him Monday.
“He was at the doctor and gave me a long text about he’s sorry,” Gonzale said. “But I think he’s in a good frame of mind. I told him, just keep plugging away and we’ll see you (again) in a major league uniform.”