COMMENTARY | Despite having only pitched in three major-league seasons, Jonny Venters will now have two Tommy John surgery scars to commemorate his time in the Atlanta Braves bullpen. For every pitcher in the MLB, three words are more frightening than any screaming line drive up the middle could ever be: Dr. James Andrews.
The 28-year-old left-hander went back under the infamous surgeon's scalpel on May 16 to repair a torn ligament in his pitching elbow after he was unable to improve following an injury sustained in the last week of spring training. For Venters, a long road to recovery awaits him. If all goes according to plan, the Braves would have their set-up man back in an Atlanta uniform roughly one year from now. However, no two recoveries are ever the same, and after multiple Tommy John surgeries, Venter coming back at all cannot be considered a given at this point. As for Atlanta fans, there is only one question left needing to be answered: who is to blame?
The first direction in which the wagging finger of fate gets pointed is towards managers Bobby Cox and Fredi Gonzalez. To say Venters has been overworked during his three seasons would be like saying the thoroughbred racehorse was kind of ridden hard before the horse doctor (Glue Factory representative with a shotgun) was called in to take a look.
In just three seasons, Venters amassed 230 appearances and 229 2/3 innings. The Braves tried to limit the number of times Fredi Gonzalez tapped his left arm while looking towards the bullpen last season. Venters ranked No. 41 in the National League with just 66 appearances in 2012; however, the proverbial ship may have already set sail.
From 2010 to 2011, Venters played in 164 games for the Braves -- the most by any reliever over that time. In 2011 alone, Venters notched 85 games played -- meaning the reliever was called on to pitch in more than half of the Braves' games that year.
The 2011 season has also become infamous for another reason: the Braves' historic collapse. Entering the final month of the season, the Braves had an 8 1/2 game lead in the Wild Card standings but went just 9-18 in the month to miss out on a spot in the playoffs. Many placed the blame for their record's implosion on the way in which Craig Kimbrel and Venters had been overused. During the last month of the season, the twosome blew five saves and accumulated an ERA of 4.88 as their number of innings pitched kept growing. The two had blown just seven saves in the previous five months combined.
Still, Venters indicated that he does not think his exaggerated number of appearances had anything to do with this injury.
"I wouldn't change anything about those two years that I pitched," Venters said. "I don't think it had anything to do with it. It's just one of those things -- part of the job, I guess."
Now, fans just have to decide whether they believe that Venters actually believes the company line he is touting.
The problem with following Venters' logic is that this is not the first time this situation has befallen a Braves' reliever. After pitching 90 innings in 80 games in 2007, Peter Moylan lost all but 5 2/3 innings in 2008, thanks to the need for his own Tommy John surgery. And having learned nothing from the ordeal, Bobby Cox came back and used Moylan in 87 games and 85 games respectively over the following two seasons. Moylan is now a shell of what he once was and is currently trying to pitch his way back to the majors after signing a minor-league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013.
They say that people who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. While Fredi Gonzalez has his own share to culpability for Venters' injury, he at least appears to be trying to limit closer Craig Kimbrel after logging him for 77 innings in 79 games in 2011. Kimbrel only pitched in 63 games last season and is currently on pace take the rawhide in just 64 games this year.
The player fans may want to be the most worried about is Eric O'Flaherty. Without Venters, O'Flaherty has become much more important to the success of the Atlanta bullpen. The Braves' new lefty set-up man has made 276 appearances over the last four seasons, and he is currently on schedule to notch 76 more in 2013.
The troubling thing moving forward is that Fredi Gonzalez has just moved the Braves to a shorter six-man bullpen following the activation of Jason Heyward from the disabled list. With fewer arms from which to choose, let's just hope history is not repeating itself as an inordinate number of innings could fall - yet again -- on the shoulders of the same Atlanta relievers. Expect the Braves to try and bolster their 'pen via a trade-deadline deal as we inch closer to the halfway point of the season.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter based in "Braves Country." He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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