LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Regardless of what comes before or after it, the phrase “going to see Dr. Andrews” ranks near the bottom of things any pitcher wants included in the same sentence with his name.
Jonny Venters is going to see Dr. Andrews.
The Braves reliever will have his sore left elbow checked out by orthopedic surgeon James Andrews on Wednesday, the earliest the doctor could see him due to Easter weekend. Andrews did Tommy John elbow surgery to repair Venters’ torn ulnar collateral ligament in 2005.
Venters left Tuesday’s game against Detroit with tightness in the elbow, but said he didn’t hear or feel a pop like he did when he hurt it in 2005.
“It didn’t swell up,” he said. “(Wednesday) it wasn’t terrible, soreness-wise. Most of the soreness is in my muscles. So that’s good. I don’t know what the plan is…. I’m not too awful worried about it being anything.”
The Braves are cautiously optimistic about their lefty setup man, but didn’t want to speculate much about the injury until Andrews examines Venters.
“It seems like a sprain of some sort, or strain,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “We’ll let Jim Andrews tell us what his findings are once he sees him. Until Jim sees him, we just won’t know.”
The Braves have two other lefty relievers, veteran standout Eric O’Flaherty and Luis Avilan, who had a 2.00 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 31 appearances (36 innings) as a rookie.
With Venters expected to begin the season on the 15-day disabled list, the Braves have two bullpen openings and are expected to fill them with right-handers Cristhian Martinez and Anthony Varvaro, who are both out of minor-league options. Wirfin Obispo impressed this spring but isn’t on the 40-man roster.
A best-case scenario for Venters might be inflammation of the sort he had last season, which required a DL stint in July. The worst case would be a ligament tear requiring another Tommy John surgery and rehab that typically requires 12 months for pitchers.
Braves starting pitcher Brandon Beach is in the ninth month of rehab from Tommy John surgery and hopes to be back in June. Starters Kris Medlen and Tim Hudson previously had Tommy John surgery, which has become almost commonplace among pitchers.
However, few pitchers have come back strong following a second Tommy John surgery.
The Braves hope Venters will avoid any surgery and not miss significant time. He’s an important piece of a bullpen that’s rated as one of, if not the best in baseball.
Venters, 28, was arguably baseball’s best reliever in his first two major league seasons (2010-2011), and almost certainly the best non-closer. Some in the industry believe he might now be paying a price for that heavy workload.
His 230 relief appearances in the three seasons included a majors-leading 85 in 2011, when he had a 1.84 ERA and .176 opponents’ batting average.
Since the beginning of the 2010 season, only Sean Marshall (231) has more appearances than Venters. Among all relievers in that period, Venters is third in innings (229-2/3), fourth in strikeouts (258), second in walks (110), and ninth in ERA (2.23).
He had a career-worst 3.22 ERA in 66 appearances last season and had a stint on the DL in July for an inflamed elbow. Venters pitched well after coming back from the DL.
After posting a 1.80 ERA in his first 173 career appearances through April 30, 2012, Venters had a 6.08 ERA in 31 appearances from May 1 through July 4. After returning from the DL on July 22, he had a 1.71 ERA in his final 26 appearances.