Jonny Venters problems can be summed up in one succinct sentence: His sinker is a stinker.
The solution isnt so simple.
Venters needs his sinker.
Its his best pitch, the reason why hes in the majors, the weapon that helped him become one of the top late-inning shutdown relievers in his two-plus years in the majors.
At issue is that his sinker has lost its sink.
Its not dipping and dropping like it once did, befuddling hitters who either swung and missed or drove it into the dirt for harmless ground balls.
His sinker is now staying up in the strike zone, where it doesnt belong. Up there, its nothing more than a hanging breaking ball with a target on it, ripe for big-league hitters.
That lack of sink is the reason why his pitches are heading high and far in the opposite direction at an unprecedented rate.
Venters has given up three home runs in his past six innings, a span of eight games.
Thats an abrupt and amazing turnaround from his first two seasons, when only three THREE batters hit home runs off him.
Giving up homers (stinks), Venters said.
Maybe his opinion of them is part of the reason why he gave up such a small number of home runs from his first appearance in a Braves uniform in 2010 until May 11.
Think about it.
He gave up one homer to Cincinnatis Joey Votto in 79 games and 83 innings his rookie season.
That total doubled to two to Seattles Dustin Ackley and Washingtons Jayson Werth in 88 innings over 85 games last year. And those homers were almost three months apart.
This years home run hit parade began almost three weeks ago, when St. Louis Carlos Beltran went deep in the eighth off Venters.
Thirteen days later, Cincinnatis Drew Stubbs hit one out, which was followed two days later by Bryce Harpers opposite field blast at Turner Field.
It just shows that my sinker has been up in the zone, Venters said. Normally I get a lot of ground balls, and I havent been doing that yet. Guys are hitting it in the air, which just shows Im leaving the ball up.
The home runs have been just a part of Venters problems this month.
He was quite stingy in April, entering May with two wins and a perfect ERA of 0.00.
That came to an immediate halt on May 1, when the Phillies scored twice off Venters. That started the struggles.
Venters has allowed seven earned runs in 9 23 innings for a 6.52 ERA this month, a figure that was lowered with his scoreless inning in Mondays loss to the Cardinals.
Harpers home run was the latest blow, coming on a 1-2 pitch that Venters said he left over the plate.
I threw two good pitches to him early and then left one up, he said. It seems like Im not getting away with anything like that. (I) just dont know if my mechanics are different, but guys are hitting mistakes. And Im making them too often.
Venters is working on correcting whatever has gone wrong. He insists its not physical, constantly saying this month that he feels fine, that the left shoulder soreness that bothered him this spring is no longer a worry.
Hes reviewed and compared video from 2011 and this season. Hes worked with pitching coach Roger McDowell in side sessions. Hes practicing the slight adjustments hes made.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez thinks Venters is holding his hand differently than in the past. The change in his release is affecting the path of the ball, causing it to stay high and not sink.
Its going sideways instead of going down, and to me, thats just tinkering a little bit with the hand position, Gonzalez said. Sometimes the hand gets a little bit this way (demonstrating a sideways motion), instead of up, and the sinker goes this way (up), instead of down.
Venters said there are minimal differences in this years delivery compared to last year, but nothing crazy. Gonzalez said he plans to keep sending Venters to the mound in high-pressure situations.
He wants to give Venters more opportunities to keep his confidence rising and his pitches sinking.