(Carroll Rogers is filling in for staff writer David O’Brien today.)
So after two long months, Jair Jurrjens makes his return to the mound tonight, and the easygoing kid from Curacao will have a smile back on his face. Well, more like that intense, yet calm, look from under his cap bill, but you know what I mean.
It’s been a while for him.
Doesn’t it seem like ages ago when the Braves were in St. Louis, and Jurrjens was getting pulled from that game after only one inning with a hamstring injury? That was April 29 and the last of the Braves’ nine-game losing streak.
Amazingly, without him, the Braves have gone 37-19 since then, played .661 ball and spent the last month in first place in the NL East.
So what happens with Jurrjens back in the mix? Well you figure better than 5-6, which is what the Braves’ record was since April 29 with Kenshin Kawakami on the mound. (Though that number is a little better than you figured for KK isn’t it? The Braves won quite a few of his no-decisions.)
Kris Medlen more than held his own with Jurrjens out; now he has a place in the rotation. And now you bring back the guy who was a Cy Young candidate last year with some decent run support.
Jurrjens won 14 games and had the third best ERA in the National League at 2.60. He allowed two or fewer runs in 77 percent of his starts (26 of 34).
“We’re very excited,” Brian McCann said last night about the anticipation for Jurrjens’ return. “What he’s done the last two years for us is huge. We hope he comes back and he’s healthy, and he can help us for the stretch run we’ve got coming up in the second half.”
Jurrjens’ rehab outings leave a little bit of a question, don’t they? It’s not like he went down there and mowed the Triple-A hitters. He actually got hit pretty good – at a .357 clip in his three outings, giving up 20 hits in 13 innings. He was 1-1 with a 5.54 ERA overall.
But then again, he’s not buckling down like he would in a major league game – some of those results had to do with stamina issues, some was working on getting a feel back for his changeup.
So what will we see tonight? Five to six quality innings would be a good start, as well as showing no ill effects from the hamstring. An added bonus of these two months off is that Jurrjens’ shoulder has gotten a chance to rest, and that should help as the Braves head into the second half.
Jurrjens has a good track record against the Nationals at 2-1 with a 2.98 ERA in seven starts against them. He’s the man they need to win the series tonight and to get things turned around against NL East opponents. The Braves, who are 10-12 against the NL East, are in the midst of a 12-game stretch against their division opponents and need to play well to be sitting nicely come the All-Star break.
With all that was going on yesterday with All-Star news, roster moves, etc, I didn’t get a chance to follow up much on what went on with Yunel Escobar and his teammates in the dugout during Monday’s game, but I can tell you this:
Tim Hudson and Chipper Jones were both trying to keep Escobar’s head up when they patted him on the back (or neck as Chipper did), to let him know that they supported him after two scorekeeping decisions went against him.
You’ll recall that this time last year Escobar got benched by Bobby Cox after he reacted poorly to a scoring decision that went against him, mouthing an expletive toward the press box, in a move that was caught on camera.
This time around, Escobar kept his cool and his teammates wanted to make sure he knew they were behind him.
The second error against Escobar on Monday night was changed to a hit. When I asked Hudson about it yesterday, he said he actually thought both plays should have been ruled hits. And that’s from a guy who was pitching and could have seen his ERA affected more by hits.
Here’s what Hudson said on the subject: “Obviously questionable rulings in my opinion. I don’t think either of them were errors to be honest with you.
“It’s probably frustrating. I know at times he probably feels like he might be getting picked on a little bit,” he continued. “I just want him to know that his teammates are on his side. I tried to do my best to pick him up and not let those runs score, which they didn’t. But still you want him to understand that we’re going to do what we can to get him more groundballs to put it him behind him.”
Where Escobar showed progress was by not acting out and making matters worse, and by following up Monday’s game with another good defensive outing on Tuesday. He made at least two really nice plays last night at shortstop, one on a ball behind second base with the shift on against Adam Dunn and another charging in on the grass on a ground ball from Pudge Rodriguez.
(By the way, Matthew the organist played Fat Bottom Girls by Queen last night for Pudge. Funny.)
Barbaro Canizares and Mike Dunn were named to the International League All-Star team today and will play the Pacific Coast All-Stars on July 14 in Allentown, PA. The game will be shown on the MLB Network at 7 p.m.
For Canizares, it’s a third straight appearance on the International League All-Star roster. He had an 11-game hitting streak in early May and is hitting .314 for the season. He has been in the league’s Top 10 in batting for most of this month.
Dunn made the Eastern League All-Star team last season as a member of the Yankees organization. He’s had a 17 2/3 innings scoreless streak during the first half and leads all International League relievers with 12.29 K/9 IP. He is 2-0 with a 0.72 ERA through 27 games overall, with 51 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings, and a .183 opponents’ batting average.
OK, more from the ballpark shortly….