Numbers ugly, Jurrjens wants to let loose
Braves right-hander gaining confidence in recovering right knee
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jair Jurrjens knew he might struggle through the early portion of the Grapefruit League season as he attempted to shake off rust and gain confidence in his previously ailing right knee. But the Braves pitcher certainly did not expect the results to be this ugly.
"I'm trying not to go crazy," Jurrjens said. "I've just got to keep working, and hopefully by the time the season starts, I'll be getting some results."
Jurrjens managed to make his ugly Grapefruit League statistics even uglier in Tuesday's 7-2 loss to the Tigers, when he allowed seven runs -- six earned -- on eight hits in five innings. The 26-year-old right-hander, who entered last year's All-Star break with a National League-leading 1.87 ERA, has posted a 10.13 ERA through his first four starts of the spring season.
Standing less than two weeks away from what would be his first Opening Day start, Jurrjens believes he needs to start gaining more confidence in his right knee. Jurrjens has not experienced any discomfort this month, and he has been more aggressive while pushing off the rubber during his past two outings.
But Jurrjens believes he is still fighting to truly believe his knee is stronger than it was last year, when a bone bruise doomed him after the All-Star break and sidelined him for September. One year earlier, he missed the regular season's final two weeks and playoffs because of a torn meniscus in his right knee.
"I'm trying to push off and make sure the leg is 100 percent," Jurrjens said. "It's taking a little bit of concentration off the hitters. This is my fourth start, and I've had no pain. I need to start concentrating on hitters again and stop worrying about my leg."
Location has certainly been an issue, as Jurrjens has allowed 25 hits and 16 runs in 13 1/3 innings. He has also walked 10 and recorded eight strikeouts. But the Braves have been encouraged by the fact that his fastball is once again resting around 89-90 mph and occasionally touches 92 mph.
According to Fangraphs.com, Jurrjens' average fastball velocity from 2007-10 was 91.6 mph. He has not quite returned to that level. But his teammates believe his fastball has more life than it did when it averaged 88.6 mph after last year's All-Star break.
"The ball is coming out of his hand better for me than it was last year," Braves backup catcher David Ross said. "I felt like he got his velocity back. I saw 91 and 92 when I looked up there. I was happy about that. I don't know if he was happy about the performance or whatever, but I thought he looked good."
Jurrjens certainly was not happy about allowing two-run home runs to Ryan Raburn and Delmon Young on Tuesday. Nor was he happy about uncorking two wild pitches.
But to his credit, he did not complain about the soft spot on the mound that regularly caught his left heel as he pushed toward the plate with his delivery. Instead, Jurrjens blamed the creation of the hole on his own mechanical errors.
"My mechanics today were a little bit off and I was landing on my heel," Jurrjens said. "I started digging that big hole and after that, I started slipping. There's just some stuff I need to fix with mechanics. I felt good. Things happen for a reason in Spring Training for you to work on."
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was happy to see Jurrjens quickly get back on his feet after the heel of his shoe got caught in the hole, causing him to fall early in the fifth inning.
With Tim Hudson expected to miss at least most of April and Tommy Hanson still behind schedule because of the concussion he suffered on Feb. 20, Jurrjens stands as the most likely candidate to make the Opening Day start on April 5 against the Mets at Citi Field. Jurrjens' seniority seemingly places him ahead of Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor.
But Gonzalez said he will wait at least another week before announcing his Opening Day starter.
"I have not decided," Gonzalez said. "It will probably be [announced] in the next seven or eight days. We'll have to see who we have lined up and who we want to take that start in New York."
As Jurrjens prepares for his final two exhibition starts, he is hoping to gain a better feel for his changeup and his slider, which he described as being "awful" on Tuesday. At the same time, he is hoping to finally convince himself that he no longer has to worry about his knee.
"You want to see results, but this is still Spring Training," Jurrjens said. "I'm not happy with the way I'm pitching. But I'm not going to go crazy either. I'm still trying to figure out a lot of stuff and trying to get more comfortable."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.