By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Jonny Venters is resilient.
Or maybe he’s stubborn.
Either way, the Charlotte Stone Crabs pitcher isn’t going to let four elbow injuries deter him from making it back to the major leagues.
“(The challenging part has been) to not play the game. It’s been tough not being able to do that,” Venters said. “It’s been unfortunate, but I’m excited to be here and just trying to grind it out.”
In 2010 and 2011 few relievers in baseball were as good as Venters, who was pitching for the Atlanta Braves at the time. Over those two seasons, Venters appeared in 164 games with a stellar 1.89 ERA in 171 innings pitched with 189 strikeouts and an all-star appearance in 2011.
At that time, Venters was already one Tommy John surgery into his career, which appeared the be a thing of the past.
But in 2012, Venters’ numbers took a drastic dip. He had a 3.22 ERA and eventually was placed on the disabled list due to elbow discomfort.
After Tommy John surgeries in 2013 and 2014 — that’s brings the total to three if you’re counting at home — Venters refused to quit, and signed a minor league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. Venters appeared on track for a return to the majors until, once again, an elbow injury derailed his progress and shut him down during the 2016 season.
“I got back into games and I was feeling good, but the last two weeks of it were really hard,” Venters said. “I bounced back and got over it, though.”
Through the previous four years of battling injuries, Venters remained focused, but it was that final injury last season which really made him give quitting baseball some good consideration.
“There were times, especially after the last injury,” Venters said. “I was kind of leaning (toward quitting), but I have a great support system in my family and the Rays. Everybody believed in me, so here I am.”
Luckily for Venters, his most recent injury did not require a fourth Tommy John surgery, which has allowed him to bounce back with the Stone Crabs this season. He’s made nine appearances for Charlotte this year, allowing just five hits and two runs while racking up 10 strikeouts.
“He does so much for us a staff, just the way he is, his professionalism, the way he is with our pitchers,” Stone Crabs manager Michael Johns said. “It was awesome to watch him back out under the lights for the first time since last year.”
While Venters is appreciative of the opportunity to pitch for the Stone Crabs, he still waits for the day he’ll make it back to the majors — this time with the Rays.
“It would be unbelievable,” Venters said. “It’s been five years, and I’m just going to try to take it day by day. I know it’s the old cliché, but when they call my name, I’m just going to go out there and pitch.”
Until then, he’ll continue to be resilient, or stubborn.