Ryan Braun takes over NL home run lead

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Ryan Braun has, temporarily at least, lost his hold on a starting spot for the National League All-Star team. He does, however, possess the league lead in homers after hitting his 20th today.

He overtook Carlos Beltran, who has been stuck on 19 for a week now.

Braun went 3-for-4 in leading the Brewers to an 8-3 win over the Blue Jays on Wednesday. The homer, off Luis Perez, was his fifth in seven games, and he’s currently riding a 15-game hitting streak.

It seems pretty obvious that Braun’s positive steroid test last winter, even though it was later overturned on appeal, has hurt his popularity. Last year, he was the NL’s leading vote-getter in the All-Star balloting, and he actually has better numbers now than he did at his point in 2011 (though it’s worth noting that his awesome April last year might have stuck better in the voters’ minds then than his down May and June).

Of course, Braun seems awfully likely to start the All-Star Game anyway. First, he’s the obvious choice to DH for the NL if he doesn’t get the lineup spot. Second, he could easily pass Melky Cabrera to reclaim a starting spot in the balloting. Third, he’d likely be moved into the lineup if Matt Kemp, the NL’s current leading vote-getter, isn’t ready to play in the All-Star Game as he recovers from his strained hamstring.

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.