Jonny Venters has not recovered from an elbow injury sustained in the final week of spring training and the Braves reliever is headed for another visit with Dr. James Andrews.
He’ll see the renowned orthopedic surgeon Thursday in Pensacola, Fla. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez declined to speculate on the possibility that Venters would require more surgery.
Andrews performed the ulnar-collateral ligament reconstruction (Tommy John surgery) that Venters needed after the 2005 minor league season.
Andrews examined Venters after the injury this spring and gave him a platelet-rich plasma injection in his elbow on April 2 in hopes of hastening his recovery. The PRP injection, viewed as exotic treatment a decade ago, has become popular among professional athletes to reduce recovery periods.
After four weeks rest, he was cleared to resume a throwing program and was encouraged by his initial flat-ground throwing sessions after he began just over two weeks ago.
But when he threw off a mound for the first time on Thursday in San Francisco, Venters had soreness in the elbow and cut short the planned 15-20 pitch session. He tried again Friday and said that, while he made it through about 15 pitches and liked how the ball was coming out of his hand, he had the same discomfort as the day before.
Venters, 28, flew with the team to Phoenix from San Francisco on Sunday, but returned to Atlanta on Monday.
It was unclear from an MRI from April 1 whether there was another tear in the ligament. Andrews explained to Venters and Braves officials that many previous Tommy John surgery patients have some cloudy spots on MRIs around the previously repaired areas.
Most pitchers who have ligament reconstruction return to their pre-surgery performance level. However, the recovery odds fall drastically for the relatively small number of pitchers who’ve had multiple Tommy John surgeries. Estimates range from 10 to 25 percent of pitchers who’ve had two transplant operations returning to pitch effectively at the major league level.
Among the successes, Doug Brocail had a second Tommy John surgery at age 35 in 2002 and came back to pitch for seven more seasons. But for every one who’s been successful, there have been many who never made it back from a second procedure.
Venters was a 30th round draft pick by the Braves in 2003 and worked his way through the minor league system in five seasons spent mostly as a starter. His career career took off when he made a strong impression in spring training as a reliever and got a callup early in the 2010 season.
He became a key part of a bullpen rated among baseball’s best in recent years. He had 230 appearances in his first three seasons through 2012, including a majors-leading 85 in 2011, when he had a 1.84 ERA and a .176 opponents’ batting average.
Venters had a career-high 3.22 ERA in 66 appearances last season. He pitched better after returning from a July stint on the disabled list for elbow inflammation, posting a 1.71 ERA in his final 26 appearances.