MIAMI – Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens took steps Monday toward returning to the Braves’ rotation, but time remains their biggest obstacle.
The Braves indicate a decent chance that Hanson (shoulder) could return in time to make a regular-season start and be a rotation candidate for the division series, provided they hold on to win the wild card and make the postseason. Jurrjens (knee) probably wouldn’t be an option unless the Braves advanced beyond the first round of the postseason.
Hanson threw two simulated innings in the team’s Instructional League at Orlando, after throwing three bullpen sessions last week in Atlanta.
“Tommy threw great today,” Braves manager Fred Gonzalez said. “Third-four pitches, simulated game [conditions], two innings. He’ll throw a side Wednesday and start Friday [in an Instructional League game].”
Gonzalez said Hanson would pitch three or four innings or a maximum of 65 pitches in the planned start Friday. Barring any setbacks, he could be on schedule to start the last regular-season game of the season Sept. 28 against Philadelphia.
However – and here’s where time is again an enemy – the Braves would not start Hanson in that game if a playoff berth were on the line. That would be Tim Hudson’s normal day to pitch, and the Braves wouldn’t skip Hudson if that last game is a must-win to get into the playoffs.
“There’s so much up in the air,” said Gonzalez, whose Braves lost 11 of their past 17 games before Monday, reducing their wild-card lead to 3-1/2 games over the resurgent St. Louis Cardinals.
Jurrjens threw about 40 pitches in a bullpen session Monday afternoon at Sun Life Stadium before the Braves’ series opener against Florida. It was the first time he threw off the mound since being fitted for a brace on his troublesome right knee. He said the brace wasn’t overly restrictive.
“Just little things I’ve got to get used to,” he said. “I felt good. I threw for almost 40 pitches and felt discomfort on, like, three pitches. Not pain. Just a feeling.”
Asked if he was any more confident about possibly returning, at least if the Braves advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs, Jurrjens said there were still steps to take.
“This is really a leap in a good way,” he said. “Now just see how it’s going to react tomorrow and go from there. It felt good. I’m happy with my pushing off [the mound].”
Gonzalez has said he would not start Hanson or Jurrjens in the postseason without their first making a regular-season start to prove readiness.
Hanson is 1-3 with an 8.10 ERA in five starts since the All-Star break, after going 10-4 with a 2.77 ERA before the break. Jurrjens is 1-3 with a 5.88 ERA in seven starts since the break, after going 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA before the break and making the All-Star team.
Hanson’s last start was Aug. 6 against the Mets, when he gave up seven runs and a career-high four homers in 3-1/3 innings. After that he was diagnosed with rotator-cuff tendinitis for the second time in as many months. He got a cortisone shot – also his second in as many months – and still had pain when he tried to return.
A more advanced MRI revealed a small undersurface rotator-cuff tear, which Dr. James Andrews described as a normal-wear type of injury that should not require surgery.
Jurrjens’ last start was Aug. 30 against Washington, when he gave up six runs and three homers in six innings. He was diagnosed with a bone bruise in his right knee, the same knee that he injured late last season, causing him to miss the postseason. Jurrjens had arthroscopic surgery in October to repair a meniscus tear in the knee.
Gonzalez watched Jurrjens’ bullpen session Monday.
“He threw the ball well,” he said. “So he’ll throw another side Wednesday, and we’ll see where he goes from there.”
Jurrjens’ Wednesday bullpen session with be a little longer and more intense, Gonzalez said. The Braves haven’t said what his next step would be, but it could be a batting-practice session against some Braves hitters.