Spring training is a time for feel good stories, and the Tampa Bay Rays have one in camp.
Sunday afternoon, left-hander Jonny Venters made his spring debut after what he describes as "3 1/2" Tommy John surgeries. Venters has not pitched in the big leagues since 2012 -- he threw only 27 2/3 minor league innings from 2013-17 -- due to a series of significant elbow injuries.
In his scoreless inning Sunday, Venters issued a walk and generated two ground ball outs, his trademark back during his heyday as a setup man with the Atlanta Braves. His velocity was promising, and, as you might imagine, Venters was quite nervous.
Venters, who will turn 33 next month, had his first Tommy John surgery back in 2005. He needed the procedure again in 2013 and 2014, then, in 2016, he tore his elbow ligament for the fourth time. At that point Venters opted for a reinforcement surgery rather than a full blown ligament replacement, hence his crack about having "3 1/2" Tommy John procedures.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times has more on Venters' comeback attempt:
After working his way back to Triple-A last season in the Rays minor-league system, making 24 appearances and, most importantly, finishing the season healthy, Venters, 32, sees today as another milestone.
"It's been a while," he said. "One of those things I haven't done in a long time."
And, he hopes, the next step on his way back to the majors.
"Feeling good, can't complain. Everything's fine," Venters said this morning in Port Charlotte. "Hopefully go get some people out. We'll see. That's still yet to be seen."
Venters was lights out with the Braves from 2010-12, throwing 229 2/3 innings with a 2.23 ERA (175 ERA+) and 258 strikeouts. He was an All-Star in 2011. Venters may never be that effective again, but at this point, just getting back to the big leagues would be a major accomplishment. Three Tommy John surgeries and a fourth torn ligament would send most to retirement.