ATLANTA -- While keeping a close eye on Mike Minor from afar, Rays left-handed pitcher David Price has gained the sense that his former Vanderbilt University teammate is going through some of the same inevitable struggles that he endured after he gained a lasting place in the Majors during the 2009 season.
"He's going through some growing pains," Price said. "There is not a better league than this one right here. This is the Major Leagues. If you don't come correct every five days, it's going to get you. When you go through it and get through it knowing how to get through it, then whenever you start to go back through it again, it's easier to get out of it."
Minor, who will start against the Giants on Wednesday night, has remained confident and poised while encountering trouble during his first full Major League season. The 24-year-old left-hander has posted a 5.97 ERA, surrendered 19 home runs and allowed opponents to produce a .823 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) against him in his first 16 starts.
Since struggling in his first full big league season, Price has made three consecutive All-Star appearances. While Minor might not be destined to travel the same path, he has already started to show some improvement while posting a 4.24 ERA and limiting opponents to a .739 OPS in his past six starts.
"He's got great stuff," Price said. "He'll get it."
Two years older, Price remembers Minor arriving at Vanderbilt as a shy young kid who grew much more comfortable with his surroundings over the next three years.
"His freshman year, he was so quiet," Price said. "He came from a hometown with something like two red lights in it. That was a big change for him. But then he opened up quite a bit. I remember going back to see him his junior year and he was night-and-day different. Everybody knew he had a good personality and he let it show."
Venters nears return after 'good mental break'
ATLANTA -- Jonny Venters will not be coming off the disabled list when he is eligible Friday. But after throwing a bullpen session Tuesday, the Braves reliever seemed confident that he could return early next week with the ability to turn around what has been a trying season.
"I feel like I got a good mental break and I'm starting fresh," Venters said. "My arm felt great. So we'll wait to see what they want to do from here."
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he expects Venters to complete one more bullpen session before possibly beginning a short Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett on Friday. The left-handed veteran would likely make at least two appearances for Gwinnett before being activated.
When Venters was placed on the disabled list with a left elbow impingement on July 5, Gonzalez said he was confident his veteran reliever would return as soon as he was eligible for activation. The fact that he will need a few extra days is not a result of a physical setback.
"The All-Star break threw a damper in his scheduling," Gonzalez said. "I saw him throw the ball here the other day and he threw the ball pretty good."
While Venters threw off the bullpen mound last week, Tuesday marked the first time in nearly two full weeks that he did so while throwing both his sinker and slider with near maximum effort. His command showed signs of rust. But his elbow proved cooperative.
One year after earning his first All-Star selection and establishing himself as one of the game's top relievers, Venters has struggled mightily. Through 40 appearances, he has posted a 4.45 ERA, surrendered six home runs and allowed opponents to produce a .412 on-base percentage.
After Venters gave up a home run and allowed an inherited runner to score on a wild pitch on July 4, the Braves placed him on the disabled list. The 27-year-old pitcher believes the decision has benefited him both physically and mentally.
"I was putting a lot of stress on myself," Venters said. "It was just a good time because right there before the All-Star break my arm was barking. So it was a perfect time to take a couple days."
Sheets ranks Braves debut among top moments
ATLANTA -- Right-hander Ben Sheets has had his share of big moments in his baseball career. He threw a shutout in the gold medal game at the 2000 Olympics to beat Cuba, struck out 18 batters in a game in 2004 and started the 2008 All-Star Game.
Sunday, Sheets experienced another great moment in his career. Pitching in the Major Leagues for the first time in nearly two years, Sheets threw six shutout innings against the Mets in the Braves' 6-1 victory. Sheets said Sunday belongs among the best moments in his career.
"It ranked high; it ranked very high," Sheets said. "I don't know exactly where, but it was a good feeling."
Sheets struck out five batters and allowed just two hits against the Mets. He hadn't pitched in the Major Leagues since July 19, 2010, when he was a member of the A's.
Since then, Sheets has undergone Tommy John surgery and missed all of the 2011 season. He's missed two of the last three seasons with arm injuries, but said he felt "very good" Monday, a day after throwing 88 pitches Sunday.
Sheets will make his next start in one of the games of the Braves' doubleheader against the Nationals on Saturday. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he will ask Sheets which game he prefers pitching in before making a decision.
Adding Sheets to the Braves' rotation could prove to be big in the second half of the season, Gonzalez said.
"That's a big acquisition there," Gonzalez said. "He gave us a hell of an outing."
Right-hander Peter Moylan, who is recovering from surgery last September to repair a torn right rotator cuff, has moved up to low Class A Rome from the Gulf Coast League. Moylan made his second appearance for Rome on Monday, allowing three runs on three hits and a walk in one inning.
Gonzalez said left-field prospect Evan Gattis is nearing a return from the wrist injury that has sidelined him since May 19. Gattis is hitting off a tee at the team's Spring Training complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and will rehab in the Gulf Coast League before returning to Double-A Mississippi.