Venters, now 33, pitched for the Braves from 2010-12, part of a deadly backend bullpen combination with Craig Kimbrel and Eric O’Flaherty (O'Ventbrel, as it came to be called).
“That was a fun group to be a part of,” Venters said. “Craig, Eric, it was fun to go out there every night and watch them work, be a part of it and try to close down games. Looking back, it was pretty fun.”
The good ole days, as fans remember it. Venters earned a 2.23 ERA in 230 appearances for the Braves. He was an All-Star in 2011, pitching in a remarkable 85 games.
After 66 outings the following year, Venters didn’t reappear in a major-league game until earlier this season. He’s endured three Tommy John surgeries (2005, 2013, 2014), the last of which prompted the end of his first Braves tenure.
Venters signed with the Rays in 2015. He tore his ulnar collateral ligament in 2016, requiring a reattachment but not Tommy John surgery.
Through it all, he made the Rays roster out of spring training in March, going on to post a 3.86 ERA across 14 innings (22 appearances).
“I’m grateful to the Tampa Bay Rays for everything they did for me and my family,” Venters said. “They really did right by me in every aspect. Thankful to the Rays for all that, and I’m excited to be here.”
Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos contacted Snitker a couple of nights ago regarding a potential Venters acquisition, and the conversation was brief.
“He couldn’t say yes (fast enough) before the word ‘Venters’ came out of my mouth,” Anthopoulos said. “Done. Everyone really likes him. He’s had a reputation as one of the good guys in the game. So that’s obviously a nice add. But make no mistake, we think a lefty with his stuff, his sink and his slider, he can do a solid job for us.”
The Venters family never left metro Atlanta. His kids are about to start school again, and he said Viviana, his wife, is thrilled with the transaction.
Venters didn’t know he was a trade candidate, referring to the move as a “shock,” aware the retooling Rays would be moving pieces, but unsure if he’d be part of that. He immediately told Viviana the news, then called his parents and agent.
“My head was spinning,” he said. “I didn’t know what to think. Obviously it’s sad when you get to know people and you’re leaving, but I can’t think of a better place to be. This is home for me. It’s where I came up, where I was drafted, where my family lives (Suwanee). I’m just excited to be back, to be here and be part of this team. This team’s exciting, a lot of good players.”
The Braves are hoping they’ll add more than a feel-good story. They need bullpen help to stay in the National League playoff race. Venters presented the perfect opportunity to add help at a negligible cost.
“We’ve got a lot of really good memories with him,” Snitker said. “He’s holding up really well, it sounds like. It’s just good to have a guy like that. What he brings, what he’s been through. If he’s healthy, he’s something else.”
The Rays knew they were doing Venters a favor, and he repeatedly expressed gratefulness for how they handled him.
"I think there was a need by Atlanta and I think given the opportunity for him to go back home, there was some sentimental value in that," Rays manager Kevin Cash said, via the Tampa Bay Times. "We can't deny that. ... Yes, we are doing him a favor. It allows us some flexibility with the roster. We've got some guys we want to continue to see but there was a definite thought on (GM) Erik (Neander's) mind, on (senior VP) Chaim (Bloom's) mind if we find a landing spot, we want it to be a good one. I can't imagine there being a better one.''
Venters hopes he can an important add down the stretch. And he could be the first of several bullpen changes, with the Braves continuously tinkering with the unit in search of answers.
“My stuff, it’s not what it was, it’s not the same as it was when I was here,” he said. “But it’s been good enough. I still get some decent sink and the slider’s OK. It’s not going to blow anyone’s doors off or anything like that. But hopefully I can get out there and throw some strikes, get some groundballs, get some outs.”
Friday was Venters’ first time at SunTrust Park. He came away impressed and can’t wait to pitch in front of the fans again.
“I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the fans here,” he said. “They always treated me extremely well. So I’m excited to get out here and be in front of them whenever I pitch, and try to get some outs.”
Venters entered in the sixth inning of the Braves’ 4-1 loss to the Dodgers. He quickly retired Chris Taylor and Alex Verdugo before walking Clayton Kershaw. He got Joc Pederson to ground out two pitches later to finish the frame.
It was Venters’ first game with the Braves since the 2012 wild card game on Oct. 5, 2012.
“It felt good to get out there and get some outs,” he said. “I was excited and nervous. It felt good to be home. To put that uniform on again was a special feeling for me. I am just grateful to be here.”
Snitker told Venters before the game he’d try to fit him in. And he took the SunTrust Park mound less than 24 hours after learning he’d again be a Brave.
“I thought it was really good,” Snitker said. “It was good to get him out there. He hadn’t been out there in a while (due to hamstring injury) and I thought he looked real good.”