Two Braves relief pitchers are working toward a return, one faster than the other; Shea Simmons and Jonny Venters.
As most fans know Simmons was placed on the 15-day DL with a shoulder strain effective July 27. Last night he made his first rehab start for Gwinnett facing the Norfolk Tides. He was sharp and quick facing just four batters and allowing only one hit while striking out one. The G-Braves are on the road for three more game and Simmons will likely get at least one more game on the trip.
The young relief pitcher made 26 appearances before injury posting a 2.91 ERA and 1.200 WHIP in 21.2 innings allowing one homer and striking out 23. The strikeout totals led some to call him mini-Kimbrel while some Twitter critters dubbed him Iceman. Whatever you call him, his presence improved the bullpen significantly.
When exactly he’ll return hasn’t been disclosed but the Braves may hold off until September because bringing him back sooner might force roster move they don’t want to make. Simmons would still be post season eligible if they wait as he’s on the DL.
UPDATE 7PM Sunday 8/17/14: According to Chris Vavlamore at the AJC Simmons will start the Monday game at Charlotte and throw either one-inning or 25 pitches. Fredi Gonzalez said the team will decide after that whether Simmons will be activated immediately or be given one or two more minor league innings prior to returning. That would seem to indicate that they could make a roster move off of the 25 man before September first. It’s hard to see who that would be without a DFA. Stay tuned and we’ll keep you informed.
Twice this year we’ve heard that Venters was moving towards a return and twice he’s had setbacks. Now once more he appears to be starting to move forward; maybe.
Once a dominant relief pitcher Venters had his second TJ surgery early last year. Second TJ surgeries don’t have the same success rate as the first but we are seeing more of them on younger arms so perhaps that will change. Venters however realizes it’s an uphill climb.
“Time is getting short (for a return this year.) Hopefully, I don’t have to throw too many live [batting practices] and I can get into a game as fast as I can.”
He began throwing off the mound again a week ago at what he estimates is an 80% level but 15 months and a platelet rich plasma injection later. is still pitching through what he calls discomfort.
“It’s a different soreness and a different kind of pain,” Venters said. “I’m trying to feel it out, trying to get over the pain really. You just got to get past it and know it’s going to be sore.”
Discomfort and soreness are different from pain and pitcher suffer soreness most of the time. The trick is to differentiate between soreness that you can pitch through without damage and pain. Pain is nature’s way of saying “Stop That!” and should be heeded. Skipper Fredi Gonzales told Mark Bowman in the post linked above that the Braves are letting Venters dictate the pace of his return.
“He’s going at his own pace. “If we can use him the last week or two weeks, fine. If it doesn’t, that is fine too. He’s gone through so many setbacks. I haven’t even entertained the idea of him being with us [this year].”
I hope that Venter’s recovery is successful but he may not have that chance as a Brave.
Atlanta paid him $1.63M this season – his final arbitration year – betting that he’d recover enough to be of use but wasn’t. He’ll be 30 next year and a free agent. The Braves may offer a minor league (non-guaranteed) contract and an invite to spring training but he will undoubtedly have to prove himself there to earn a roster spot. Other teams may gamble on a major league deal as Oakland did with Eric O’Flaherty this year and as much as he would like to pitch for the Braves, guaranteed money may be too good to turn down.
That’s A Wrap
I expect Simmons back on the first of September, it makes roster management so much easier for the Braves if they do that. I don’t expect JV back at all. I know thirty isn’t old but statistically a player will need a second TJ within seven years of his first. Venters hit that mark. Second TJ pitchers have a rougher recovery road and often experience a loss of velocity and/or control. They are a high risk investment that the Braves may not be willing to make.