Venters, Chavez off to hot starts in bullpen

Venters, Chavez off to hot starts in bullpen

ATLANTA -- The Braves may never again have a bullpen that proves to be as statistically impressive as the 2002 group that posted a 2.60 ERA. But with Jonny Venters and Jesse Chavez enjoying recent success, manager Bobby Cox believes this might be the deepest 'pen he has had.

"They give us confidence, because they've done it," Cox said. "It gives them confidence, too. We're pretty darn strong out there."

With Chavez and Venters providing early confidence, Cox feels more comfortable utilizing each of his middle relievers at any point of the game. If these two hurlers prolong their recent success and Kris Medlen continues to be a valuable and versatile asset, Peter Moylan and Eric O'Flaherty should gain the rest they lacked last year, when the totaled the second- and fifth-highest appearance totals in the Majors.

When Jo-Jo Reyes went on the disabled list last week, Venters was promoted to fill the final relief spot. But while allowing just one hit and registering four strikeouts in five innings since his promotion, the 25-year-old lefty hasn't looked like the run-of-the-mill "seventh member" of the bullpen.

While working two perfect innings against the Phillies in Wednesday night's loss, Venters ended the sixth by getting Chase Utley to look at a third strike, then opened the seventh by getting Ryan Howard to take an ugly swing at a third strike.

"He's not afraid out there at all," Cox said. "His sinker gets talked about by everyone."

When Chavez posted a 12.60 ERA in 10 Grapefruit League appearances, there was reason to wonder why Brian McCann said the right-hander was one of the toughest relievers he faced last year. But while allowing just one hit and recording five strikeouts in his past 3 1/3 innings, the former Pirate has regained his successful form.

"He's the same guy that I saw last year," McCann said of Chavez. "He can really be valuable for us this year."