Atlanta Braves left-hander Jonny Venters was 15 months removed from his second Tommy John surgery when he felt like his rehab was hitting a wall last week. Unable to elevate his pitches beyond 80 mph, Venters visited Dr. James Andrews for a recheck on Thursday, and the news had to feel like a punch to the gut.
The results of an MRI revealed that Venters had suffered a third tear of the ulnar collateral ligament, meaning the 29-year-old reliever will require a third Tommy John surgery in order to continue his career.
"I think [Dr. Andrews] was surprised that it failed so early," Venters said. "It wasn't like I was throwing in games or anything like that. I think it was one of those things that it was going to fail no matter what. I think we did everything right with the training staff and my therapy and throwing program. I think we did everything for it to succeed. I just think it was one of those things where it was going to fail no matter what."
It's disheartening news. For many pitchers, it would signify the end of the road. But not for Venters. He still has plenty of fight and want-to left in him, and he fully intends to make another comeback attempt, which likely won't be realized until the 2016 season at the earliest.
"It never really crossed my mind to retire, to give up and quit," Venters said. "If I was 38, it might be a little different. I'm only 29. So hopefully, I have my age working for me. We'll see. I'm going to give it a shot."
According to MLB.com, Venters plans on talking to former major leaguer Jason Isringhausen, who is one of the few pitchers to return to the major leagues following a third Tommy John surgery. Isringhausen's third procedure happened in 2009 when he was 36. He returned as a reliever with the New York Mets in 2011 and appeared in 103 games over the next two seasons before retiring in 2012.
That should give a younger Venters reason for optimism, but obviously with each Tommy John surgery, the road gets a little bit longer and a lot more daunting.
In Venters' situation, he took longer than the usual 12 months to return from his first Tommy John, but when he did he was among the most dominant relievers in all of baseball. During the 2010-11 seasons, Venters posted a 1.89 ERA and struck out 189 batters over a major league-high 164 appearances.
Venters was again slowed by elbow discomfort in 2012, but made it through the season, even appearing in one postseason game. But he hasn't returned to a major league mound since suffering the second tear early in 2013.
Given how the second rehab played out, Venters' mettle will definitely be tested as he enters his third. Here's hoping it proves worthwhile and he can return as one of the best comeback stories we've seen in several years.
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