Jurrjens shines as 'best of the best'
During this latest Year of the Pitcher, the candidates are plentiful for the distinction as the best of the best. You have the prolific ways of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Jered Weaver. The Big Three of the Philadelphia Phillies hasn't disappointed, and neither has Justin Verlander, always a no-hitter waiting to happen.
That said, the winner is . . .
Yes, Jurrjens is that guy -- and I hear the hissing. For one, this highly efficient right-hander for the Atlanta Braves is tied with four other pitchers for the National League lead in victories with 11. Verlander has 11 wins as well, and while Verlander threw the second no-hitter of his career earlier this season before flirting with a couple more, the closest that Jurrjens came to doing so was his one-hitter last week.
Here's another thing: Roy Halladay is another one of those 11-game winners, and unlike Jurrjens, Halladay joins Verlander and fellow Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee among baseball's leaders in strikeouts. Jurrjens isn't even in the top 50 in that category.
Jurrjens also isn't among the elite in the Major Leagues in complete games, shutouts or scaring hitters as they walk to the plate.
While 12-game winner CC Sabathia has the aura and the weight of the average offensive lineman packed around his 6-foot-7 frame, Jurrjens could be mistaken in his street clothes for an accountant.
None of that matters. After all, the most important thing you want your starting pitcher to do is keep the other team from scoring, and nobody does that better than Jurrjens. In fact, his 1.89 ERA is the best in the game, and it is flirting with Bob Gibson territory.
Remember the definitive Year of the Pitcher of 1968 and Gibson's ridiculous ERA for the ages of 1.12?
"I do," Jurrjens said, even though he wasn't born until 18 years later in a small town in Curacao.
Nevertheless, while many pro athletes can only tell you about the history of their particular sport from the time they joined a big league team to the present, Jurrjens is the exception.
Not only did Jurrjens know about Gibson's ERA, he noted the mounds were lowered following the season. "So it's going to be difficult for somebody to [have a 1.12 ERA] again," Jurrjens said. "You need to have everything going your way. I'm just trying to enjoy the moment right now, and to keep going at it, and to keep working hard.
"Yesterday is done already. I'm thinking about the next start. So I'm not trying to get caught up with all the things going on around me."
By "things," Jurrjens could mean whether he should be the starting pitcher next week for the National League in the All-Star Game. He has the credentials. In addition to the brilliant combination of his victory total and ERA, he is scheduled to pitch Wednesday, which would give him the perfect amount of rest before the All-Star Game.
It's just that Halladay will have a similar scenario.
The same goes for Lee.
"I think you almost have to go with Doc [Halladay] or Lee [as for] seniority," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Doc is a Cy Young Award winner in both leagues. Cliff won the Cy Young in the American League. I know it's an honor and a privilege to start the All-Star Game, but just to be named to that is big."
Don't misinterpret Gonzalez's praise of those other pitchers. This is just his attempt at fairness. He cherishes his starting pitcher, who is in his fourth full season in the Major Leagues, all with the Braves.
I mean, what is there not to like about the guy? After the great promise of somebody who finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting in 2008, Jurrjens spent the next season spitting at the sophomore jinx with a 14-10 record and 2.60 ERA.
There was Jurrjens' slide to mediocrity in 2010, when he was 7-6 with an 4.64 ERA, but much of that was due to his various aches and pains. He even entered this season with questions about his durability after he strained an oblique muscle during Spring Training.
Now Jurrjens is Jurrjens again.
"This is as good as I want him to be," said Gonzalez, in his first season as the Braves manager after four years of watching Jurrjens from afar when Gonzalez ran the Florida Marlins. "If he can give me this for 35 starts, I don't want anything more than that from JJ.
"He's got  starts now? I'll take 20 like this, with a bunch of one-hitters the rest of the way."
To Jurrjens' credit, he hears such things and then covers his ears. He keeps his eyes open, though. Not only is he constantly studying hitters in search of an edge, he is doing the same with pitchers.
He salivates over the movement on Halladay's pitches. He cherishes the command of Lee. He dreams about the power of Verlander. Then he tries to figure out how that trio and others combine their physical strength with the mental game along the way to "setting up" hitters.
"You never finish learning about baseball, and I'm still learning," said Jurrjens, who rarely takes his eyes away from opposing pitchers during games while sitting in the Braves dugout. "I'm always open-minded to learning new things to help me get the hitters out. You have to keep making adjustments because those hitters are trying to make any adjustments they can to get an edge on you."
Nobody was better at dissecting and then destroying the psyche of hitters than Tom Glavine, the former pitching great of the Braves. He won two Cy Young Awards and finished with more than 300 victories. He is a Braves consultant these days.
One of Glavine's loyal clients is Jurrjens.
"In Spring Training, I was getting a little frustrated with myself, and [Glavine] told me to go check the tape and see if you're hitting your location," Jurrjens said. "He said, 'If you're not hitting your location, that's when you need to start making an adjustment.' I checked, and I wasn't hitting my location. So I went to old tapes of me in the Minor Leagues and other games, I could see how aggressive I was with my fastball.
"Suddenly, it just clicked."
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.