KISSIMMEE, Fla. – More than six months had passed since Jair Jurrjens last pitched in a major league game, and so results weren’t the top priority when he faced Houston on Monday. The health of his right knee was.
Jurrjens was charged with two runs, three hits and one walk in two innings of the Braves’ 10-5 win against the Astros at Osceola County Stadium, their first Grapefruit League win after consecutive losses to Detroit over the weekend.
Most importantly for him and the Braves, Jurrjens’ right knee was pain-free.
“The main thing today was just trying to get the feel back pushing off and not feeling any pain,” he said. “I wish I didn’t give up two runs but it’s spring training and I’m trying to work on my pitching, get comfortable with my mechanics and get ready for the season.”
He smiled and said, “You guys know, I suck at spring training anyway. I get hit all the time. I try a lot of stuff in spring training.”
The fact that Jurrjens had his sense of humor was a positive sign for the Braves, who didn’t see much of it after mid-summer. His career-best first half – 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA and All-Star selection — was ruined by a bone bruise in his knee.
Jurrjens didn’t pitch after Aug. 30, the second consecutive September that he missed for right-knee problems.
“That was good for him to come out and get his two innings of work, and just take the rust off a little bit,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Monday.
Jurrjens wore a knee brace and pitched five innings in an Instructional League game after the season ended, and would have pitched in the Division Series if the Braves hadn’t missed the playoffs. But when he began his offseason rehab and conditioning in December, the knee still ached.
That’s when a doctor discovered a problem with the big toe of his right foot and prescribed custom orthotics for his shoes. The knee pain subsided. He continues to wear the orthotics and knee brace for workouts and games.
Jurrjens topped out at 90 mph with one fastball, another encouraging sign. He pitched some entire games in 2011 without a 90-mph reading.
He said he just wished he’d thrown more fastballs Monday the way he’d planned.
“I had a plan going in to just find my spots, find my release on my fastball, on my four-seam and my two-seam,” he said. “I think I just got away from the plan [with the emotion of] being in the game and getting the feeling of all my pitching right away. I felt good and just sometimes I tried to do too much … and left some balls up.
“If you look at the whole picture, I made some quality pitches and got some soft fly balls. I still need to work on the strikeout pitches. I get up ahead too quick and cannot finish him off. Just go back to the bullpen and work on some stuff, things me and Roger [McDowell, pitching coach] are experimenting with on the mound.”
With Tim Hudson recovering from back surgery and expected to miss April, Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson were leading candidates to start Opening Day. After Hanson missed the first week of spring training with a concussion, Jurrjens is likely to start the opener.