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.

Rangers to sign James Loney to minor league deal

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 21: James Loney #28 of the New York Mets tosses to first base against the San Francisco Giants during the second inning at AT&T Park on August 21, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  The New York Mets defeated the San Francisco Giants 2-0. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.

Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.

The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.

Report: Tyson Ross not expected to pitch in April

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 29:  Tyson Ross #38 of the San Diego Padres pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Petco Park September 29, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Comments from an anonymous team official suggest that Rangers right-hander Tyson Ross will not be expected to join the rotation until May or June, per a report from Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Both Ross and GM Jon Daniels favor a conservative approach for the 29-year-old as he works his way back up to full health after undergoing surgery last October to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome.

The delay is reportedly being implemented so that Ross will be have the strength and stamina to contribute during the stretch run. Per Daniels:

We would rather err on a little extra time up front with the goal being to finish strong, pitching in big spots, meaningful games down the stretch and hopefully past 162.

Ross signed a one-year deal with the team on Thursday after pitching through an injury-riddled season with the Padres in 2016. If all goes according to plan, he’ll slot into a rotation that includes Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Andrew Cashner and Martin Perez. The Rangers are expected to narrow down their fifth starter alternatives in spring training.