Jason Heyward hits off tee, will take batting practice soon

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Braves outfielder Jason Heyward has been on the 15-day disabled list since May 22 with soreness in his right shoulder and was called out recently by teammate Chipper Jones for not playing through minor injuries. Perhaps motivated by Chipper’s harsh words, Heyward took a big step toward returning Friday at extending spring training.

According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the 21-year-old right fielder hit off a tee and preformed “other baseball activities” down in Lake Buena Vista, Florida while reporting no issues with his shoulder. It was the first time he had swung a bat in three weeks.

The Braves are expected to begin ramping up Heyward’s rehab schedule this weekend. He should be taking batting practice and participating in extended spring training games within the next several days.

Heyward was batting just .214/.317/.407 with seven home runs and 14 RBI before his most recent injury. He finished the 2010 season with a promising .277/.393/.456 slash line, 72 RBI and 18 home runs.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.