The Adventure of Jonny Venters in D.C.

He’s already won Comeback Player of the Year once before. If Jonny Venters pitches next year, he should win it again by default.

Venters has already undergone “three and a half” Tommy John surgeries. He also looked like his prime self — one of the most dominant left-handed relievers in baseball — in 2018. The fact that he was even available in late May (when the Nationals signed him to a minor league contract) was largely due to his checkered past health-wise.

The numbers (mainly a 5.40 ERA) will tell you Venters wasn’t particularly good in Washington. That’s not exactly true, though. In his first outing, he recorded five outs — why Dave Martinez left him in long enough to do that is a topic for another paragraph — and struck out three batters.

His second game (July 4) was a two-out appearance. In Martinez’s mind, that was short enough for him to use Venters again the next day. So what happened? Venters gave up three runs on three hits, a walk, and a hit batter. To make matters worse, he suffered a shoulder injury that subsequently ended his season. It’s a sad story, but honestly, this was somewhat predictable. Old pitchers with injury histories shouldn’t be used on back-to-back days. But I digress.

At this point, Venters is approaching 35 years old, and with this added injury to his resume, it would be more than understandable if he simply retired. It’s also hard to picture anything short of another Tommy John surgery leading him to do so.

Truthfully, if Venters has anything left in the tank, the Nationals can’t afford to let him go. The right side of their bullpen may have lacked trustworthy depth in 2019, but the left side is virtually nonexistent aside from Sean Doolittle — who might have to return to closing games, depending on whether Daniel Hudson is either re-signed or replaced.

Does this mean Venters will be back? Far from it — I’d actually be surprised if he was. It would be a classic “I’m not surprised, just disappointed” scenario.

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