Venters walks 4 straight; Braves’ defense sharp

JUPITER, Fla. —Braves reliever Jonny Venters didn't give up any hits Wednesday for the first time in six spring appearances, but he sure walked plenty.

The left-hander issued four consecutive one-out walks in the sixth inning against the Marlins, walking in the tying run in a game the Braves won 2-1 on Chris Johnson’s two-out single in the ninth inning.

Freddie Freeman’s towering leadoff homer in the second inning, his third of the spring, put the Braves up 1-0. That remained the score until the sixth.

Venters had allowed 11 hits but no walks in five innings before Wednesday. He came in to get the last out of the fifth inning when Kris Medlen left the game after being hit in the arm by a line drive. Venters got a groundout to start the sixth inning, then walked Juan Pierre, who had no previous walks all spring.

Pierre stole second base and Venters walked Donovan Solano. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch by Venters, who walked Rob Brantly to load the bases. Facing Justin Ruggiano with one out and nowhere to put him, Venters walked him, too, bringing in a run.

He avoided further damage by getting Chris Coghlan to ground into an inning-ending 5-2-3 double play, with Solano out at home.

Venters had faced six batters in the inning and walked four of them.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez was asked if he thought the lefty was only missing the plate by a small margin Wednesday.

“I think so,” he said. “It was nice to see him come back after walking in a run and get that double play.”

Venters has a 4.26 ERA in seven appearances, allowing 11 hits, five runs (three earned) and four walks with five strikeouts in 6-1/3 innings.

Walden update: Reliever Jordan Walden had no problems in a 20-pitch bullpen session Tuesday, the first time he threw off a mound since getting an epidural last week for a bulging disc. He hasn't pitched since his Feb. 23 spring debut, and it's uncertain if he'll have enough time to get ready or will open the season on the disabled list. Gonzalez said Walden might throw another bullpen session in a day or two before possibly pitching in a game.

Juston Upton highlight: When his brother, center fielder B.J. Upton, lost a fly ball in the lights in the third inning, left fielder Justin Upton showed his range by racing over to make the catch. Gonzalez also lauded the defense of third baseman Juan Francisco, shortstop Ramiro Pena, and catchers Gerald Laird and Evan Gattis.

Short hops: The Braves' first four outfielders — Jason Heyward, the Uptons and Reed Johnson — and Laird returned to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., after the game, and will not play Thursday against St. Louis. The rest of the position players stayed overnight in Jupiter and will face the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium, which they share with the Marlins. Hot-hitting Gattis will start at catcher for the Braves on Thursday….

Catcher Matt Kennelly was struck on the end of a finger while attempting to bunt in the eight inning. He left the game after the pitch and was treated for what Gonzalez said was believed to be only a blood blister.

Braves lefty Mike Minor will start Thursday against Cardinals right-hander Joe Kelly.