Rays nearing decision on Venters

Jonny Venters, who spent the past two seasons with the Rays rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, will not make the opening day roster
Jonny Venters has not allowed a run in six appearances this spring. [Chris Urso|Times Staff]
Jonny Venters has not allowed a run in six appearances this spring. [Chris Urso|Times Staff]
Published March 22, 2018|Updated March 22, 2018

Yankees second baseman Neil Walker was headed to the batting cage Monday for a little pre-batting practice when he was stopped and asked what, if anything, did he remember from his two career at-bats against Jonny Venters.

"He was filthy," Walker, hitless in those at-bats, said. "You didn't want any part of him."

On the other side of Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Rays catcher Wilson Ramos recalled Venters pitching against the Nationals during the early part of this decade.

"Not too many times we scored runs against him," Ramos said.

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Rays pitcher Matt Andriese talked about having Venters on his fantasy team in 2011.

"Nobody was getting two hits off him in an inning," Andriese said.

Venters was as dominant a reliever as anyone back then, making the National League All-Star team for the Braves in 2011 and forming a dominating trio at the back end of the bullpen with closer Craig Kimbrel and Eric O'Flaherty.

Then came the injuries and the three Tommy John surgeries and the two seasons spent rehabbing with the Rays organization. He pitched in 24 minor-league games last season and pitched in his first spring training game this month since 2012.

Venters is as close as he has been to pitching in the big leagues since the 2012 season.

The question: when … and perhaps, where?

Manager Kevin Cash said earlier this week that Venters in on the "outside looking in," when it comes to earning a spot on the opening day roster. That leaves a return to Triple-A Durham, where he appeared in one game at the end of last season, or a trade if there is a team looking for left-handed help in the bullpen.

Venters, who is grateful for the opportunity to rehab with the Rays, said he would agree to pitch in Durham.

"We keep talking about what a great story he is, but besides that, he's had a really great spring," Cash said. "Putting pressure on us to make some decisions. He's bounced back. He's kind of checked every box. He's passed every test thus far this spring."

With another scoreless inning Wednesday in an 8-3 loss to the Red Sox, Venters has not allowed a run in six spring innings across six appearances and said his arm feels fine. More importantly, it feels fine the day after he pitches. He was scheduled to pitch this week in back-to-back games, but those plans were scrapped after Monday's rainout, so the Rays can get innings for the pitchers vying for a spot in the bullpen.

Venter' velocity is down "a couple of ticks" he said, from the mid-90s fastball he threw before his injury to the low-90s one he has delivered this spring.

"I'm not throwing as hard as I would have liked. That might just be who I am now," he said. "I hope there's more in the tank and it will come. I'm not sure. I feel that it will. This is also new territory for me. I'm happy with where it is. I feel I can get people out with where I'm at right now."

Venters, 33, said he doesn't think too much about the past. He also said he tries not to think too much about what could be.

"Of course, that has crept into my mind, but I can't even imagine what that experience might be like," Venters said. "I try not to think of anything beyond (today). I go out there and try to get people out and see what happens the next day. As long as I'm healthy and pitching well, I think it will take care of itself. I'm just happy to be here and happy to have the opportunity. Beyond that I try not to worry too much about it."

Contact Roger Mooney at Follow @rogermooney50.