BOSTON -- When the Braves demoted Jair Jurrjens to Triple-A Gwinnett, he was a bewildered former All-Star who was wondering how things could have gone so wrong so fast. Two months later the right-hander appears quite confident that he will capably fill the huge void created when it was learned Brandon Beachy would need season-ending elbow surgery.
There seemed to be a variety of opinions about what to expect from Jurrjens when he made his return to the Major League scene at Fenway Park on Friday night, but it seems safe to assume very few were guessing he was going to be as impressive as he was while allowing just one run over 7 2/3 innings in a 4-1 victory.
"He really was terrific," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I guess it's a little easier to pitch in the big leagues than it is in Triple-A."
While limiting the Red Sox to just three hits, including two in the eighth inning, Jurrjens looked much like he had when he entered last year's All-Star break with a Major League-leading 1.87 ERA. As he navigated his way through the 103-pitch effort, it was hard to believe this was the same pitcher who had posted a 9.37 ERA in four starts before being forced to begin a two-month stint at the Minor League level.
"There's no words to describe how good I felt," said Jurrjens, who told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month that he did not feel like the Braves still wanted him.
Adrian Gonzalez's opposite-field single in the first inning stood as the only hit Jurrjens had surrendered before Will Middlebrooks opened the eighth with a double and later scored on Daniel Nava's two-out double off the Green Monster. That marked the end of the evening for Jurrjens, who saw his effort preserved by Chad Durbin, who prevented any further eighth-inning damage, and Craig Kimbrel, who notched his 21st save.
Jurrjens' dominant return helped the Braves win their third consecutive game and distance themselves from some of the concern they were feeling this week once it was known Beachy would not be able to avoid Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.
"It was a plus for all of us," catcher Brian McCann said. "He's a guy who can give us a lift the rest of the year and beyond."
There is not much comfort in replacing a guy who was leading the Majors with a 2.00 ERA with another who had posted a 5.18 ERA in 10 starts against International League opponents. But if this start was an indication to come, the Braves should find comfort in the fact that Jurrjens made the most of his time in the Minors and has returned stronger and much better than few could have expected.
McCann opined that because his fastball had more life, Jurrjens was actually better than he was at this time last year, when some were debating that he deserved to start for the National League at the All-Star Game.
During the early innings of this return start, Jurrjens' fastball was resting around 90-91 mph and occasionally hitting 92. When he was burdened by a weak right knee in April, the 26-year-old's fastball was sitting around 88-89 mph. In addition, his changeup did not create the deception that it did as he heavily used it the second and third times through the Red Sox's lineup.
"I'm really excited about the way that he pitched," Gonzalez said. "This is the JJ of last year, when he was rolling and made the All-Star team. It's a nice lift."
Jason Heyward highlighted his three-hit performance and helped provide Jurrjens and early lead with a one-out fourth-inning double to put runners on second and third base. Matt Diaz followed with an RBI groundout before Andrelton Simmons enhanced Jon Lester's frustration level with a two-out double that scored Heyward.
Simmons, who grew up watching his older brother play with Jurrjens in their native Curacao, added a sixth-inning insurance run with a sacrifice fly that scored Heyward, who had reached with his second double of the evening.
Heyward has batted .389 (21-for-54) with seven multihit games in his past 15 games. His recent success provides reason to wonder if he can boost the Braves' offense just like Jurrjens will boost the rotation if he continues to pitch like he did against Boston's potent lineup.
"He's been a top-of-the-rotation starter for us for four years," McCann said. "To see his velocity back to where it needs to be, that's a great sign for everybody in here, including himself."
The start of the game was delayed by one hour and 14 minutes due to rain.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.