PHOENIX – Jonny Venters hasn’t recovered from an elbow injury sustained in the final week of spring training, and the Braves reliever is headed back for another visit with Dr. James Andrews.
He’ll see the renowned orthopedic surgeon Thursday in Pensacola, Fla. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez declined to speculate on the odds that Venters would require another surgery.
Andrews did the ulnar-collateral ligament reconstruction – aka Tommy John surgery — that Venters had after the 2005 minor league season.
Andrews examined Venters after the injury this spring and gave him a platelet-rich plasma injection in his elbow on April 2 in hopes of hastening his recovery and avoiding surgery. The PRP injection was viewed as exotic treatment a decade ago, but has become popular among professional athletes as a means to reduce recovery periods.
Venters was told to rest the elbow for four weeks before resuming a throwing program. He followed that plan and was encouraged by his initial flat-ground throwing sessions after he began throwing again just over two weeks ago.
But when he threw off a mound for the first time on Thursday in San Francisco, Venters had soreness in the elbow and cut short the planned 15-20 pitch session. He tried again Friday and said that, while he made it through about 15 pitches and liked how the ball was coming out of his hand, he had the same discomfort as the day before.
Venters, 28, flew with the team to Phoenix from San Francisco on Sunday, but returned to Atlanta on Monday.
It was unclear from an MRI that Venters got April 1 whether there was another tear in the ligament. Andrews explained to Venters and Braves officials that many previous Tommy John surgery patients have some cloudy spots on MRIs around the previously repaired areas.
Most pitchers who have Tommy John surgery return to their pre-surgery performance level. However, the recovery odds fall drastically for the relatively small number of pitchers who’ve had multiple Tommy John surgeries. Estimates range from 10 to 25 percent of pitchers who’ve had two TJ surgeries returning to pitch effectively at the major league level.
Reliever Doug Brocail had his second Tommy John surgery at age 35 in 2002 and came back to pitch seven more seasons. There have been others. But for every one who’s been successful, there have been many pitchers who never made it back from a second procedure.
Venters was a 30th round draft pick by the Braves in 2003, and worked his way through the minor league system in five seasons spent mostly as a starter. His career career took off when he made a strong impression in spring training as a reliever and got a callup early in the 2010 season.
With his 94-95 mph darting sinkers – former closer Billy Wagner said he had the best stuff he’d seen from a lefty reliever – and his resilient arm, Venters became a key part of a bullpen rated among baseball’s best in recent years. He had 230 appearances in his first three seasons through 2012, including a majors-leading 85 in 2011, when he had a 1.84 ERA and a .176 opponents’ batting average.
Venters had a career-high 3.22 ERA in 66 appearances last season. He pitched a lot better after returning from a July stint on the disabled list for elbow inflammation, posting a 1.71 ERA in his final 26 appearances.