BALTIMORE — Jonny Venters has made a successful return to the majors after enduring three Tommy John surgeries and a six-year absence.
Pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays in his first big league appearance since the 2012 NL wild-card game, Venters entered in the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night. He retired Chris Davis on a grounder , the only batter he faced.
"Oh man, it was an amazing experience, just to get out there on a big league mound in a big league game," Venters said. "To be able to get an out and help this team win, it was a special thing that I'll never forget the rest of my life."
It was lefty vs. lefty, and Venters got the better of Baltimore's slugger.
"We're going to view Jonny in that role, to come in and get a lefty out," manager Kevin Cash said after an 8-4 win. "I thought it was perfect. It worked out. He came in got a big out with a two-run lead for us."
Venters received high fives and fist bumps in the Tampa Bay dugout because, after all, it was a comeback that everyone could appreciate — four major elbow surgeries in all.
Hours earlier, Venters was sitting out a rain delay in the minors during a morning game when he got word the Rays were recalling him from Triple-A Durham.
So the 33-year-old hopped into his truck, grabbed a flight to Baltimore and was in the clubhouse when Tampa Bay formally announced the move.
"It's hard to put into words how I'm feeling. It's been an emotional day," Venters said prior to the game. "I'm excited to be here. Grateful for the opportunity. Hopefully go out and get some people out today."
He did, retiring the lone batter he saw. That was quite enough.
"My family was here. They made the flight and got to see it, so it was a dream come true, really," he said.
Venters' previous performance in the majors came with Atlanta, a year after he was an NL All-Star. Since then, he had elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2013 and 2014 after getting it done originally in 2005.
"After the last time, I all but made up my mind I wasn't going to do it again," Venters said. "Then I spoke with the doctors and my family, everybody thought it was a good idea to do it again. So I felt like if everybody that I cared about thought that way, then I would be stubborn not to try it again. So here I am."
Venters was uncertain how he would fare in the majors on six years' rest.
"That's a good question," he said. "I'm not sure. We'll see."
Well, after one outing and four pitches, he's got a 0.00 ERA.
"It's kind of like starting over more than coming back," Venters said. "So I was nervous and excited."
Venters was 0-0 with a 1.59 ERA in five games for Durham this season. He pitched at four minor league levels in the Rays' system last year and pitched briefly in their organization in 2016.
Upon his return to the majors, Venters acted more like a rookie than a veteran of 124 big league games.
"Humble, appreciative, a little overwhelmed," Cash said. "Just like, amazing."
Cash, in turn, was delighted to see Venters' hard work pay off.
"I can't even fathom what he's probably gone through on the injury front," the manager said. "The organization is really happy. And for good reason. He's a good pitcher and probably a better person."
Cash gave Venters a big hug when the pitcher walked into his office.
"I cannot imagine what he's been through," Cash said. "For me personally, I was excited to shake his hand and say, 'Congrats.'"
To make room for Venters, the Rays sent reliever Hunter Wood to Durham.