ATLANTA -- After last September's collapse, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez vowed he would keep his key relievers fresh for this season's pennant race. Gonzalez stuck to his plan, and closer Craig Kimbrel and left-handed setup men Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters each have pitched in 20 fewer games this season.
Venters threw 1 2/3 innings in the Braves' 5-4 victory Saturday against the Nationals. It was just the fourth time he has pitched more than one inning this season, but the third time in the second half. He said starting to pitch multiple innings per appearance again has been "like riding a bike."
Now fully recovered from an elbow impingement that forced him onto the disabled list at the end of the first half, Venters said he thinks the plan to use the key relievers less often has been a success.
"I feel fresh," Venters said. "I want to go out there whenever they want to give me the ball."
With the end of the season drawing closer, Gonzalez has started to more liberally use his bullpen. Kimbrel got the first four-out save of his career Sept. 5 against the Rockies, and Venters has been asked to get more than three outs in two of his last four games.
Against the Nationals, Gonzalez said it was just a gut decision to use Venters against the middle of their lineup in the sixth inning and go back to him in the seventh.
"We were just trying to match up a little bit," Gonzalez said. "Jonny's had pretty good success against that part of the order, and we were just trying to optimize that."
The Braves' bullpen appears to be benefiting from being more rested. Kimbrel leads the National League with 36 saves and has struck out 104 batters in 54 1/3 innings. O'Flaherty hasn't allowed an earned run since July 13 and has a 1.92 ERA this season. Venters has given up runs in only two of his 20 appearances since returning from the DL.