The mighty 'pen 

June, 17, 2010

Getty ImagesAfter asking for a chance to work out of the 'pen, Venters has thrived.
Jonny Venters doesn't yet have a song that is played when Braves manager Bobby Cox summons him into a game. "I don't know if rookies can pick their own music," Venters said the other day.

But if Venters keeps pitching the way he has at the outset of this season, fans at Turner Field will be hearing this song: "Fishin' in the Dark" by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. "I like country," Venters said.

And undoubtedly, the Braves like what they've gotten out of the left-hander, who had stalled in their farm system in recent years. Venters had always been a starter, and in the midst of a season in which he was 4-7 with a 5.62 ERA, he mentioned to Derek Botelho, the pitching coach at Triple-A Gwinnett, that maybe he would be better working out of the bullpen.

He made one start for Gwinnett this season before being called up to pitch out of the Braves' bullpen -- and he has thrived. It took him a few games to get the hang of warming up for an appearance -- before his first appearance, he threw about 30 pitches, prompting other Atlanta relievers to tell him he needed to take it easy -- but Venters likes the rhythm of a bullpen role. He likes coming to the park daily knowing that there's a chance he'll get into the game. He likes the adrenaline rush when he steps out of the 'pen onto the field.

And he's throwing very well. "To me, he looks like someone who could close games for them in the future," one rival evaluator said. "I don't know if Billy Wagner is serious about retiring after this year, but Venters could be a guy who could move into that role. You don't see a lot of left-handers with that kind of sink on their fastball."

Says Venters: "I think when I was a starter, I would get tired and I would lose the strike zone. I would be OK the first time through the strike zone, and then I'd start to have trouble."