SEATTLE -- After Jonny Venters surrendered a two-run homer in the eighth inning of Wednesday's 5-3 win over the Mariners, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he is thinking about resting his valuable left-handed reliever for at least a few days during this weekend's series against the Orioles.
"We're not concerned about it, but we may have to give him a couple days just so he can recharge," Gonzalez said. "He's too valuable for us and we want him for the long haul."
Venters cruised through the first half of this season until allowing four two-out runs in Sunday's loss to the Padres. The setup man had allowed just three runs in the previous 48 1/3 innings he worked this year. A sinkerball artist, he returned to the mound Tuesday and recorded a couple of long flyball outs, including one that forced Jason Heyward to crash into the right field wall.
Venters' struggles extended after he entered Wednesday's eighth inning with a four-run lead. The two-run shot served up to Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley was just the second home run he's surrendered in 134 career innings. Both homers have been hit by left-handed hitters -- Ackley, and Joey Votto on July 30 of last year.
"My sinker has been up in the zone," Venters said. "I don't know if it's because I'm tired or whatever. I feel fine. I'm just missing my spots and it's been up in the zone. I'm falling behind, and it's just been tough.
"When the location is up, my stuff doesn't sink as much. If it was down, I think it would still have the same action. I've been missing up and falling behind guys. You can't get anybody out like that."
Venters has made 46 appearances this year -- at least four more than any other Major League pitcher -- and worked 51 innings, which also easily leads all Major League relievers.
Dating back to last year's rookie season, Venters has made 125 appearances -- at least three more than any other reliever -- and worked 134 innings. He and the Nationals' Tyler Clippard are the only big league relievers to have worked at least 130 innings during this span.
"I feel fine, it's just a rough stretch," Venters said. "I'm not making pitches, and they're making me pay for it."
Chipper gets two days to rest ailing knee
SEATTLE -- With his right knee ailing again, Chipper Jones once again finds himself hoping to avoid undergoing arthroscopy surgery.
But the Braves third baseman understands that it will be August before he is permitted to receive another cortisone injection.
"We'll exhaust every option that we have until surgery is necessary," Jones said.
Jones rested his sore knee during Wednesday's win over the Mariners and Thursday's scheduled off-day offers more relief. If he returns to Turner Field for Friday's game against the Orioles and still feels discomfort, he said he would likely attempt to treat the inflammation with a Dose Pack.
"I guess I'm lucky the juice lasted this long," Jones said in reference to the two cortisone injections he received on May 15.
- 131 wins
- 121 wins
While he is hoping to avoid going on the disabled list and avoiding the surgery that would likely only sideline him for a couple weeks, Jones said he is confident the team would find some success without him.
"I don't feel too bad, because whenever I've been out of there, [Brooks Conrad] has always produced," Jones said. "That affords me the ability to get better."
Schafer getting more comfortable against lefties
SEATTLE -- Jordan Schafer is still adapting to life as a leadoff hitter. But contrary to what the numbers might suggest, the Braves' center fielder feels comfortable facing left-handed pitchers.
Having seen the numbers, Schafer's father asked his son in a phone conversation earlier this week if left-handed pitchers were proving to be a bother. Schafer replied "No" and then backed up his words Tuesday night, when he greeted Mariners lefty reliever Aaron Laffey with a game-tying single in the seventh inning.
Schafer's single to right off Laffey was just one of the five hits he has in 35 at-bats against left-handers this year. But the 24-year-old has been encouraged by the approach he has taken.
"I've had good at-bats, I've just hit a lot of balls hard at people lately," Schafer said. "It's just the way it falls sometimes. I haven't had any uncomfortable at-bats. It's just that some of the balls haven't fallen."
Schafer understands the primary reason the Braves brought him back to the Majors was to serve as the legitimate leadoff hitter they have lacked since Rafael Furcal left the club after the 2005 season. Schafer entered Wednesday afternoon's series finale against the Mariners hitting .233, with a .299 on-base percentage and eight stolen bases in 12 attempts.
"I still need to keep learning and make the adjustments," Schafer said. "Sometimes I need to be more aggressive, and sometimes I need to be more patient. I'm trying to learn on the fly to be the best leadoff guy I can."
Recent stretch has Heyward back up to speed
SEATTLE -- Two weeks after returning from the disabled list, Jason Heyward has been encouraged by the way his previously ailing right shoulder has reacted. At the same time, the Braves right fielder is finally feeling comfortable with the speed of Major League games again.
"I knew it was going to take some time," Heyward said. "I didn't know how long. But it feels good to get some stuff done on the field and contribute."
After missing nearly a full month with right shoulder discomfort that plagued him dating back to Spring Training, Heyward struggled during the first six games he played after returning from the disabled list. But in seven games leading up to Wednesday's series finale against the Mariners, the 21-year-old outfielder has hit .296, with three doubles.
Heyward said he has been happy with the fact that he is no longer going to the plate thinking about how to react to certain pitches like inside fastballs without aggravating his shoulder.
"I don't have to think about it so much," Heyward said. " I'm not thinking about getting my hands to some point or what not. I can relax, just see the ball and react to it."
Regular work keeps Linebrink successful
SEATTLE -- After gaining a two-run advantage in the seventh inning of Tuesday's win over the Mariners, the Braves would have typically sent Eric O'Flaherty to the mound in the bottom half of the inning. But because they had both pitched each of the three previous days, O'Flaherty and Scott Linebrink were only going to be used if absolutely necessary.
When left-handed reliever George Sherrill allowed singles to two left-handed batters and was preparing to face switch-hitter Justin Smoak, the situation would have been ideal, had Linebrink not been getting some much-deserved rest.
Linebrink posted a 7.50 ERA in his first 17 appearances of the season. But the 34-year-old veteran reliever has turned things around in impressive fashion. He has posted a 0.89 ERA and limited opponents to a .159 batting average in his previous 20 appearances entering Wednesday.
Linebrink believes some of his success can be attributed to being used much more consistently than he was last year with the White Sox.
"I'm getting more opportunities, so it's a lot easier to keep that edge," Linebrink said. "Last year, I'd go a week or 10 days without throwing. You'd have to start all over again. I'm grateful for the role they have given me here and the chance to get out there on a regular basis."
The July 24 game against the Reds in Cincinnati has been selected as ESPN's Sunday Night Game. First pitch has been changed to 8:09 p.m. ET.
With Chipper Jones resting during Wednesday's series finale, Brooks Conrad started at third base.
With Tuesday night's win, the Braves reached this season's halfway point with 46 wins and on pace to record 92 this season. They won 48 games through last year's first 81 games and ended up with 91 at the end of the season.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.