Venters believes slow, steady rehab way to go
Southpaw reliever navigating on road back from Tommy John surgery
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Jonny Venters is scheduled to throw off a mound on March 5 following two more weeks in his current long-toss program.
Venters is humming along the comeback trail after undergoing Tommy John surgery last May, but this ride is slower and steadier than the first time he underwent the procedure in 2005. His previous rehab effort was not as measured, and ultimately resulted in pain.
"The way I went about [rehab] was so much different than the first time," Venters said. "From Day 1 of the throwing program the first time, I was trying to throw hard and constantly pushing. I was constantly sore and never feeling good."
Rather than throwing full throttle from the get-go, Venters is gradually stressing the ligament and fine-tuning his mechanics. The 28-year-old hopes that by the time the Braves wrap up Spring Training at the end of March, he will be throwing hard and ready to start planning rehab assignments.
"My main goal is once I get on the mound, just to be able to find my delivery and be able to repeat it," Venters said. "Once I start throwing harder, it'll just be that much easier to repeat, and stuff like that."
Venters began dealing with soreness in July 2012 and felt discomfort in his elbow early in 2013. The injuries followed two seasons as one of baseball's best relief pitchers. He compiled a 1.89 ERA in 171 innings between 2010 and '11, earning an All-Star nod and leading the Majors with 85 appearances in his sophomore season.
The southpaw hopes to return to that form after avoiding arbitration with a one-year deal signed in November. Through his more gradual rehab, Venters feels the ball is coming out of his hand much better than before his surgery more than nine months ago.
"I haven't been sore at all," Venters said. "It's been smooth. I'm taking it slow. It's been a much better experience this time in every way really."
Vasquez eyes sidearm success with Braves
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After several years in the Minors, Luis Vasquez decided to approach pitching from a different angle -- literally.
The right-hander, who struggled with control issues and injuries during his days as a Dodgers prospect, began experimenting with a sidearm delivery as he was struggling at two different Minor League levels for the Dodgers in 2012.
However, after spending much of last year on what he described as "the phantom (disabled list)" to work on his throwing motion, Vasquez used the new sidearm motion to compile a 3-0 record and a 1.56 ERA in 22 appearances in the Dominican Winter League.
Vasquez's success gave the Braves more reason to be encouraged about the decision to sign him as a six-year Minor League free agent on Nov. 3.
"The thing that made me better in the Dominican [League] was like, I just started throwing strikes and get that under command," Vasquez said. "I found a slider from down there, and it's like, everything gets easier."
Now hopeful to earn a spot in the Braves' bullpen, Vasquez is ready to put his new style to the test. However, a scheduling issue in obtaining his visa prevented Vasquez from reporting to Spring Training until Monday.
Because Vasquez recently sustained a mild lat strain, the Braves will not allow him to begin throwing until he is evaluated by their medical staff.
"It's nothing major," manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Vasquez could prove to be another under-the-radar bullpen find by general manager Frank Wren. With his new sidearm delivery, Vasquez's fastball has registered 95-97 mph.
"I've been in the Minor Leagues for 10 years," Vasquez said. "The issue was I got injuries and stuff. Now, I'm healthy, and I'm trying to put everything together."
Gonzalez looking at lineup on Gattis' off-days
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez plans to construct the top of his lineup just as he did late last season.
Gonzalez plans to put Jason Heyward in the leadoff spot again. Heyward will be followed by Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis.
With Gattis handling the primary catching duties, the Braves need to figure out how they will construct the heart of the order when their everyday backstop needs days off.
"When he's your best hitter in the lineup or he's a real good hitter in the lineup, it's hard to give him days off," Gonzalez said. "Then, all of a sudden, you've got to give him a day off, and then you've got a hole in that lineup."
Gonzalez mentioned Freeman, who bats third, as a possibility to fill the cleanup spot when Gattis needs rest, but said he's willing to mix and match until he finds a fit for those days the Braves will be without the 27-year-old backstop.
"You got to give Gattis a breather every once in a while," Gonzalez said. "Right now, I don't see ay other option of who's going to be that guy. He's the perfect guy that fits behind Freeman."
But, Gonzalez warns, as last season demonstrated, the order can -- and will -- change this season.
"The lineup is something that's not written in concrete," Gonzalez said. "You can start with one lineup and finish with a different one. One thing for sure with us managers, the better you hit, the higher you hit in the lineup."
Joe Morgan is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.