The Braves have been utilizing multiple arms in the closer role since Arodyz Vizcaino hit the DL over a month ago. For the most part, it has been A.J. Minter, who has nine saves since July 1st. Minter has the stuff to eventually be an elite closer in the MLB. His fastball reaches the high-90s and slider makes hitters look silly, but the last five appearances have not been as crisp. He has two blown saves and allowed four earned runs. The closer spot is till up for grabs, and yesterday, it was Winkler and Venters pitching the eighth and ninth.
Too put it mildly, Venters’s comeback to the majors is a borderline miracle. The once dominant reliever for Atlanta had his career cut short by not just one but a bevy of Tommy John surgeries. Somehow, he has ventured his way back to the major league level, and he is dominating. Tampa Bay went through that peculiar phase were they started a bunch of relievers. That experiment did not favor Venters. He went 0-1 and gave up five earned runs in his one start for the Rays, but as a reliever the sinkerballer has been lights out, allowing just a single run in 22.1 innings pitched. That includes ten appearances with the Braves without allowing a single run.
Now, not many of those situations were high-stress, late in ball games, but Snitker gave Venters the opportunity to pitch his classic set-up role for the Braves on Monday. The results: Vintage Jonny Venters, retiring the side on just thirteen pitches. This was a game the Braves desperately needed. They were coming off four tough losses, two of which were directly related to the bullpen. The Pirates were a determined team in a one-run game, and Venters mowed them down.
The ninth inning was closed out by Dan Winkler. Winkler has been given the opportunity to save games before and has struggled, completing just one out of three opportunities. This time it was relatively stress-free. Francisco Cervelli led off the inning with a base hit, but Winkler would retire the next three in a row, including two by strikeout.
Winkler closing ball games is not something I expect to see much in the future, however. He is best suited for the seventh and eighth innings. On the other hand, Venters could find himself as a possible late-inning guy going forward. His stats speak for themselves and he has All-Star pedigree as a late-inning relief arm.
The Braves should continue to give the ball to Minter at the end of games while Vizcaino remains on the DL. Right now, he simply has the most electric stuff coming out of the pen. The leash may be getting shorter, but the real intrigue surrounds who the Braves will be sending out in the seventh and eighth innings to get to the ninth.
Dan Winkler, Brad Brach, Jesse Biddle and now even Jonny Venters have shown the promise. Hell, even Sam Freeman pitched a scoreless sixth inning for the Braves on Monday. Freeman has struggled in 2018 but was one of the Braves best relievers in 2017. And like Freeman, all of these pitchers have their fair share of flaws.
Eventually, Brian Snitker is going to have to find some consistency at the back end of the bullpen. That has been hard with the number of games the Braves are playing over a twenty-day stretch. This is an open competition, but my money is on Venters earning one of those late-inning spots by season’s end.