LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Twelve months ago, the Braves were beginning the Grapefruit League season and Jair Jurrjens was rehabbing a sore shoulder, the first in a string of injuries that contributed to his worst season.
He was miserable then. He’s Jair Jurrjens again now. Healthy and happy.
“It’s like a new beginning,”said the Braves right-hander, who is scheduled to start and pitch two innings in Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against the New York Mets at Port St.Lucie, Fla. “For me it’s a new season, and it’s going to be exciting to go out there and compete in a healthy way. It’s going to be like a brand new episode for me.”
The 1:10 p.m. game will be shown online on MLB.TV and carried on radio in Atlanta on 680-AM and 93.7-FM, with Jim Powell and Don Sutton in the broadcast booth.
Jurrjens will make his first start since Sept. 14, when he gave up four runs, nine hits and two homers in five innings of a loss to Washington. Five days earlier, he allowed seven runs, 10 hits and two homers in 3-2/3 innings of a loss against St. Louis.
He missed the rest of the season and postseason with torn cartilage in his right knee, which was repaired through arthroscopic surgery Oct. 20. Jurrjens also missed nearly two months with a pulled hamstring that he reinjured during rehab.
The Curacao native finished a 7-6 with a 4.64 ERA in 20 starts, just one year after going 14-10 with a 2.60 ERA that was the third-lowest among NL starters.
He reported to spring training two weeks ago leaner, stronger and more flexible.
“It’s fun to be able to do everything with the team,” he said. “I’m having fun now again.”
Jurrjens, 25, said he’s heard some suggest he pitched too many innings in his first two full seasons in the majors, including 215 innings in 2009. He says that had nothing to do with last year’s injuries.
“I just didn’t take care of myself like I did this offseason,” he said. “Last year was a difficult year. I was working out really hard, but not having anything to show for it.
“I just needed to be smarter. That’s things you learn, how to work out, how to take care of yourself better. And I went through that process last year. I’m a little bit more mature now, and do what I can do now in the offseason to come in healthy and strong for the whole season.”
The Braves are counting on Jurrjens to be a key contributor again in a rotation that features him along with Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe and Tommy Hanson. They’ll probably need all of them to have solid seasons if they’re to keep up with Philadelphia and its ace-laden rotation including Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and left-handers Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
“With us and the Phillies, it’s always close games,” Jurrjens said. “That means we have good pitching, too. You still have to go out there and try to make pitches, and we still need to hit.
“I think we can go head-to-head with them pitching-wise. On offense, their lineup is really balanced out – they have good power, speed. They beat us a little bit on the lineup, but pitching-wise, I think we’re [comparable], and pitching is the game, man.
“Good pitching beats the best hitting.”
The Braves believe they have an edge in the bullpen.
“Yes, definitely have a better bullpen,” Jurrjens said. “They don’t have anybody to get to [Phillies closer Brad] Lidge. We just need to play it out and play smart baseball.”