Jonny Venters' incredible season
NEW YORK -- A clubhouse attendant who has been around ballplayers for a long, long time reports that he has never heard the kind of visceral, defeated responses from hitters that Jonny Venters generates. They can't stand facing him, and can't stand trying, with great futility, to square up his two-seam fastball, which seems to dive as it reaches home plate. Imagine trying to take a swing against a golf ball thrown from a rooftop.
Venters' numbers tell one side of the story: The guy has allowed two runs in 35⅔ innings. He's pitched 118⅔ innings in the majors and surrendered just one home run. He has struck out 35 batters in 35⅔ innings -- which means he's getting a lot of swings and misses -- and yet is averaging a Halladay-like 13.4 pitches per inning.
But another side of the story of his dominance is told by hitters, like Joey Votto, who made a weak out against Venters last year and then, on his way back to the dugout, veered past the pitcher's mound. "You're not fun to face," Votto said to Venters.
The left-hander grinned as he told this story. His teammates really love Venters for how he carries himself, with total humility and appreciation for what he's doing. "He strikes out the side and he comes off the mound like he can't believe it," said one of the veterans around him.
Venters was initially summoned from the minors last year with the thought that he could match up well against left-handers, but as Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez noted, it really doesn't matter whether you bring him in against left-handers or right-handers or against the middle of the order or against pinch-hitters. He has completely overpowered everybody.
It doesn't matter to Venters, either, when he pitches. Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell summoned Venters and closer Craig Kimbrel into a meeting recently and told both of them that there might be days when Venters gets the call to finish a game, rather than Kimbrel. This isn't because of any dissatisfaction with Kimbrel, but because Gonzalez believes that there might be a day when Kimbrel could use a break, and because he figures it's not a bad thing for Venters and the Braves for him to experience the ninth-inning ledge.
Venters kind of shrugged when asked about this, and grinned again. "I don't think either one of us cares about what role we're in," he said, referring to Kimbrel. "For Craig and I, I think the simpler, the better."
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