DUNEDIN, Fla. – Brandon Beachy won the Braves’ fifth-starter job over Mike Minor, but Jair Jurrjens’ sore side could possibly open another spot for Minor in the rotation.
Jurrjens left with what the Braves said was “discomfort in his right side” after pitching one inning Thursday in a 5-3 win against the Toronto Blue Jays. He said it was probably just a cramp and not a muscle injury, but the Braves must wait to make that determination.
“It’s still too early to tell,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Sometimes those things manifest themselves a little bit later. Maybe nothing happens; we took him out right now as a precaution. We’ll see what happens. It’s too late in the spring to mess with it.
“He said he felt something and that was it. Get him out of there and we’ll evaluate tomorrow.”
If Jurrjens isn’t ready to begin the season, the Braves could go with Beachy as their No. 4 starter and Minor as No. 5. Or, if they’re not comfortable with having both rookies in the rotation to start the season, they could turn to veteran Rodrigo Lopez instead of Minor.
Minor was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett Thursday morning, but Wren said the left-hander could be recalled without a waiting period if the Braves place Jurrjens on the disabled list.
“We just have to see how this reacts over the next day,” Wren said. “I learned a long time ago, you don’t assume anything until guys wake up the next day and see how they feel. Because that’s really a tell-tale sign.”
Also optioned to Gwinnett were outfielder Jordan Schafer, infielder Diory Hernandez and pitchers Juan Abreu and Jairo Asencio. That left 33 active players on the camp roster.
“We made the decision that Beachy was ahead of Mike at this time in the fifth-starting-pitcher competition,” Wren said earlier Thursday, about 15 minutes after Jurrjens left the game. “We will make our final decision this weekend.”
At that point, the Braves were starting to consider options given Jurrjens’ uncertain status.
“It’s one of those things — you make a decision, and then something happens and you’ve got to make another decision,” Gonzalez said. “We’ll hold off and see how this works out.”
Jurrjens seemed confident it was a mere cramp in the rib-cage area, not an oblique strain. He thought it might have resulted from not drinking enough fluids on a warm afternoon, and said wearing a long-sleeve shirt under his jersey probably didn’t help.
Asked if he was concerned he might not be ready to make his last scheduled spring-training start Tuesday against Minnesota, Jurrjens said, “No. So far, no.”
He was scheduled to make his first regular-season start on April 4 at Milwaukee, the fourth game of the season and first in a four-game road series (the Braves open the season March 31 at Washington).
The No. 5 starter will make his season debut April 6 at Milwaukee in the sixth game.
Jurrjens showed no sign of injury during the first inning or as he came off the field. He pitched a perfect inning with two groundouts and a strikeout, throwing seven strikes in 12 pitches.
“Funny thing is, today I was feeling the best I’ve felt [this spring],” said Jurrjens, who has a 3.43 ERA in six spring starts, allowing 18 hits and three walks with 13 strikeouts in 21 innings. “The ball was coming out like I want it to. I think I’m there.
“Just got to make sure we take care of this and be ready for the next [start] and the season.”
He first felt a twinge on the pitch that induced a groundout by ex-Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar for the second out, before striking out Jose Bautista to end the inning.
Jurrjens came to the dugout and told Gonzalez. Jurrjens said he wanted to continue pitching, but was told he was coming out, that it wasn’t worth pushing it this close to the season.
He said he’s learned it doesn’t help to not be forthcoming about discomfort or pain.
“I’m not trying to hide any injuries this year,” he said. “It didn’t really help me last year when I tried to hide it.”
Jurrjens had a string of injuries in 2010 — shoulder strain, pulled hamstring, and torn knee cartilage that kept him out of the postseason and required arthroscopic surgery in October.
He finished with a 7-6 record and 4.74 ERA in 20 starts, after going 14-10 with a 2.60 ERA in 2009, when he posted the third-lowest ERA among National League starters.
Minor was told earlier Thursday, back at Braves camp, that he would be optioned to Gwinnett. He and Beachy pitched well in their fifth-starter competition, and Wren said the decision was difficult but the Braves thought Beachy gave them a better chance to win now.
In Grapefruit League play, Minor had a 0.90 ERA and .189 opponents’ average in 10 innings of three games, and Beachy had a 1.80 ERA and .143 OA in 10 innings. Each pitched well in a couple of ‘B’ games.
Beachy may have secured the job Saturday with a superb performance against the Detroit Tigers, allowing one hit in five scoreless innings. That same day, Minor allowed five hits and four runs (three earned) in six innings of a minor league game.
Beachy, an unheralded former undrafted free agent, and Minor, a first-round draft pick in 2009, are friends who plan to share an apartment this season in the Buckhead area.
They had also hoped to share a ride to work at Turner Field before long — pitching together on the Braves staff was a goal. Now, it’s possible it could happen sooner than they imagined.