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.
McCann limited to pinch-hit duties for time being
ATLANTA -- Brian McCann will be available to pinch-hit, but because he is still dealing with some discomfort on the left side of his right knee, the veteran catcher will be out of the Braves' starting lineup for at least a couple of more days.
McCann returned to Turner Field on Sunday feeling much better than he had when he was forced to exit with what the Braves termed tendinitis in his right hamstring. His area of discomfort is where his hamstring attaches to tendons near the knee.
"It's still hard to move laterally," McCann said. "It'd be hard to block a ball and it'd be hard to move behind the plate."
McCann felt some discomfort while playing in Milwaukee last week. The pain increased to the point that he was forced to exit after the second inning of Saturday's 5-4 win over the Nationals.
With McCann limited to pinch-hit duties over the next couple of days, David Ross will serve as the team's starting catcher. The presence of a third catcher, J.C. Boscan, will allow manager Fredi Gonzalez to use McCann as a pinch-hitter without the fear of having a backup available in the event Ross is forced to exit a game.
Harper sad to see Chipper retiring
ATLANTA -- Nationals rookie Bryce Harper and Braves veteran Chipper Jones formed a bond of mutual respect earlier this season when they found themselves among the candidates for the final spot on this year's All-Star team in the Final Vote. Both eventually made the All-Star team, giving the 19-year-old a chance to play with the future Hall of Famer.
Now, with Jones just a few weeks from retiring, Harper said he will be sad to see Jones go.
"It's sad, but good for him," Harper said. "He's done such a great job.
"He's having one of the best years for a third baseman in the league, so I have no idea why he would leave. He's had a great career, and it was a pleasure to watch him play growing up."