venters and kimbrel

Are the Braves riding dominant duo of Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel into the ground?

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Now that we’ve passed the midway point of the season I thought it would be interesting to examine reliever workloads to see which pitchers have been ridden the hardest in the first half.

Atlanta’s late-inning duo of lefty setup man Jonny Venters and righty closer Craig Kimbrel has been incredibly dominant, combining for 2.01 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 85 innings while holding opponents to a .180 batting average.

However, manager Fredi Gonzalez has leaned on them a total of 91 times in 86 games, as Venters leads all of baseball in appearances with 47 and Kimbrel ranks second with 44.

Here’s the appearances leaderboard:

Jonny Venters       47     Braves
Craig Kimbrel       44     Braves
Bill Bray           43     Reds
Kameron Loe         43     Brewers
Jeremy Affeldt      42     Giants
Nick Masset         41     Reds
Chris Resop         41     Pirates
Eric O'Flaherty     41     Braves
Javier Lopez        41     Giants
Jose Veras          41     Pirates

You’ll notice a third Braves reliever, Eric O’Flaherty, also cracks the top 10, but as a left-handed specialist his overall workload hasn’t been as huge as the appearance count suggests. O’Flaherty has logged a total of 39 innings in his 41 appearances, whereas Venters has thrown 52 innings and Kimbrel has thrown 43.

Here’s the relief innings leaderboard:

Jonny Venters       52     Braves
Jim Johnson         49     Orioles
Jeff Samardzija     46     Cubs
Tyler Clippard      46     Nationals
David Pauley        45     Mariners
Craig Kimbrel       43     Braves
Nick Masset         43     Reds
Drew Storen         42     Nationals
Daniel McCutchen    42     Pirates
Brian Sanches       42     Marlins

Venters leads baseball in relief innings in addition to relief appearances, and Kimbrel and Nick Masset of the Reds are the only other pitchers to crack the top 10 in both categories. Atlanta wouldn’t be leading the Wild Card race at 50-36 without riding Venters and Kimbrel so hard in the first half, but will that catch up to the Braves in the second half?

Right now Venters is on pace to throw 98 innings in 89 appearances, which is a combination no reliever has topped in 25 years. Kimbrel is on pace for 81 innings in 83 appearances, which puts the Braves on track to become just the seventh team in baseball history to have two relievers with 80-plus innings and 80-plus appearances in the same season.

Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery could share Cubs’ rotation spot in 2017

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 01:  Mike Montgomery #38 of the Chicago Cubs throws a pitch during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 1, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).

Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.

Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.

Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.

Michael Bourn to miss four weeks with a broken finger

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 6:  Michael Bourn #1 of the Baltimore Orioles looks out of the dugout as he waits to get on deck to bat during the sixth inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 6, 2016 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Orioles’ center fielder Michael Bourn is expected to be sidelined for four weeks while he rehabs a broken ring finger on his right hand, according to reports from the Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck. Bourn broke the finger while playing catch with a football after a spring training workout.

The veteran outfielder re-signed with the club earlier this week on a minor league deal and was prepared to compete for a bench role this season. He’s in line to receive a $2 million salary if he makes the major league roster and can make an additional $3.5 million in incentives based on a set number of plate appearances. Now, however, his chances of cracking the roster out of spring training look considerably diminished, as his current timetable gives him an approximate return date of March 25 if all goes well.

Bourn had an impressive, if short-lived run with the Orioles following his trade to Baltimore last August, batting .283/.358/.435 with two home runs and a .793 OPS in 55 PA. While still somewhat removed from the totals that brought him an All-Star nod with the Braves in 2012, his defensive chops should give the Orioles some depth in center once he’s healthy again.