Nationals sign veteran lefty Venters to minor league deal

ATLANTA - In their ongoing search for more bullpen help, the Nationals are taking a flier on veteran Jonny Venters, hoping the former Braves lefty can rediscover the form that made him effective last season but eluded him this year.

The Nats signed Venters to a minor league contract and assigned him to Double-A Harrisburg, where he'll attempt to get himself on track and perhaps merit a promotion at some point.

"He's a prominent left-handed pitcher who pitched well in some high-leverage situations for other teams," manager Davey Martinez said. "Nothing's set in stone yet. But once he gets going, he's just another veteran guy that maybe we could use later on down the line."

Venters-Throws-Braves-Sidebar.jpgVenters, 34, was one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball earlier this decade, owner of a 2.23 ERA in 230 appearances for the Braves from 2010-12. But repeated elbow injuries - he wound up having full Tommy John surgery three times, plus a fourth procedure he describes as the equivalent of one-half of a Tommy John surgery - derailed his career.

Venters finally made it back to the big leagues last season with the Rays, and after a successful summer was traded to the Braves for the stretch run. He finished with a 3.67 ERA in 50 games and was named National League Comeback Player of the Year.

The Braves re-signed him over the winter for $2.25 million but he struggled mightily in nine appearances, allowing 13 runs (nine earned) on nine hits and eight walks in only 4 2/3 innings. Atlanta released him on May 18, unable to give him more time to straighten himself out.

The Nationals will hope he can do that at Harrisburg, counting on his velocity to remain in the mid-90s as it was before his release but his trademark sinker to return to form.

Venters is the latest experienced major league reliever the Nationals have signed to a minor league contract, hoping at least one of them merits a call-up and ultimately helps shore up baseball's least effective bullpen. Last week they signed right-hander George Kontos, owner of a 3.10 ERA in 350 career appearances with the Giants, Pirates, Indians and Yankees, to a minor league deal and assigned him to Triple-A Fresno.

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