LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Less four weeks before his expected Opening Day start, Jair Jurrjens is the first to say he’s still got a lot of work to do.
Jurrjens was five hits, three runs and six walks with three strikeouts in 2-1/3 innings of an 8-3 loss to the New York Yankees on Saturday at Champion Stadium. It was the sixth consecutive loss for the Braves and their eighth in nine games.
“I didn’t have control of any pitches,” said Jurrjens, who walked the first two batters he faced and the last two. “The only thing I could get over for strikes sometimes was my slider. I was just falling behind too much, and they’re a really patient team and make you throw a strike.”
One positive aspect for Jurrjens was no pain in his right knee, which was injured in the second half of each of the past two seasons and prevented him from pitching in the playoff race each year.
Wearing a knee brace and custom orthotics in his shoes, Jurrjens seems to have the problem under control. He went to his knees to make a play on a bunt along the first-base line and showed no sign of favoring the leg when backing up the bases or running on the outfield warning track after he came out of the game.
Now he said he needs to apply work he’s done with pitching coach Roger McDowell.
“That’s the only thing I don’t have to worry about right now – there’s no pain and that’s a good sign,” he said. “A lot of [other] things – it’s just a work in progress. Roger and I are trying to come up with a new thing to take a little more stress off the knee, the direction to the plate and trying to repeat the same delivery. I think when I’m going through my delivery I’m thinking too much about that stuff we’re working on and not concentrating on the hitter. That’s the thing I need to work on.”
Jurrjens is 0-1 with a 10.38 ERA in two spring training starts, having allowed eight hits, and five earned runs in 4-1/3 innings, with seven walks with three strikeouts.
“I thought he minimized the damage a couple of times,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, applying a positive spin. “They could have put a big number on him a couple of times and that didn’t happen. That was a bright spot.
“He’s working on something new. A couple more days he’ll probably go and work on that again in the bullpen.”
After Brett Gardner and Andruw Jones drew walks to start the game, Alex Rodriguez grounded out to drive in one run and Mark Teixeira singled for a 2-0 lead.
In the second inning, the Yankees got a leadoff single from No. 9 hitter Doug Bernier and a Gardner bunt single before Jones grounded into a double play. Rodriguez then doubled off the right-center wall for a 3-0 lead.
“Lot of things to work on still,” said Jurrjens, who had good enough velocity (90-92 mph) on his fastball but poor location. “I need to get my timing back. I felt more comfortable today than I was the first day.
“If I’m making progress every start, I’m happy. I think today I felt more comfortable pushing off harder, and then next time I hope I can put everything together.”
Jurrjens had a career-best first half – 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA and All-Star selection – before a bone bruise dashed his season. He was 1-3 with a 5.88 ERA in seven starts after the All-Star break and didn’t pitch after Aug. 30.
With Tim Hudson expected to miss all or most of April recovering from back surgery and Tommy Hanson behind other pitchers because of a concussion, Jurrjens is the likely choice to start Opening Day April 5 vs. the Mets at New York.