After Six Years And Three Surgeries, Jonny Venters Is Back In The Big Leagues

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Photo: John Minchillo (AP)

For a couple of years now, Jonny Venters’s Baseball-Reference page has read as a confusingly short story. You see the reliever receiving a handful of Rookie of the Year votes after his debut in 2010, and then being named an All-Star in 2011. But following that initial burst of success, his 2012 season is abbreviated, and after that, there’s nothing at all. There’s no slow decline or signs of an attempted comeback; instead, the record just stops.


Very soon, though, that’ll change. As of this afternoon, Venters is on the Tampa Bay Rays’ big-league roster—more than 2,000 days since his last bit of major-league action. In between, he’s had multiple Tommy John surgeries, and he’s taken full seasons away from baseball altogether. And now, a month after his thirty-third birthday, he’s made it back.

Venters had his first Tommy John surgery before any of this, back in 2005, when he was a 20-year-old in A-ball. The second one didn’t come until years later—after his 2012 season was cut short by a trip to the disabled list, he had the surgery in May 2013. But in his very first bullpen session in recovery, he couldn’t even hit 70 mph, and he later said that he knew something was wrong from just those first few pitches. He didn’t get to make an appearance in any level of organized ball before he had to undergo a third Tommy John, in September 2014.

The Rays decided to take a gamble on a minor-league deal for Venters a few months later, and he finally debuted for the organization at High-A in June 2016, the first time that he’d played at any level since 2012.

In July 2016, he learned that he’d torn his UCL. Again.

Rather than go for a fourth Tommy John procedure to repair it, he opted for a smaller surgery, and he was able to pitch for a good chunk of 2017—even working his way back to Triple-A, where he started the 2018 season. After logging a handful of innings there, he got the call to the big leagues today. (Something which is probably really only a matter of time for most relievers at the top level of the Rays’ farm, given how the team is leaning on their bullpen this year, but still.)

“After the last time, I all but made up my mind I wasn’t going to do it again,” Venters told the Associated Press today. “Then I spoke with the doctors and my family, everybody thought it was a good idea to do it again. So I felt like if everybody that I cared about thought that way, then I would be stubborn not to try it again. So here I am.”

So maybe he’ll stick in the big leagues, and maybe he won’t, but his Baseball-Reference page, at least, will have a much more satisfying narrative arc.