LAKELAND, Fla. — Jair Jurrjens said some of the same things after his alarming start Tuesday as he said after one five days before: That he felt good despite the results, and needed to start focusing more on hitters and less on his right knee.
The Braves right-hander gave up eight hits and seven runs (six earned) in five innings of a 7-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium, raising Jurrjens’ bloated spring ERA another half-run to 10.13.
“I know it sounds like excuses,” he said. “It’s my own fault. I just need to try to focus and get back to getting people out, stop worrying about whether everything’s perfect and just worry about the hitters.”
Jurrjens didn’t pitch in September due to a strained knee, the second year in a row he finished the season on the disabled list for a right-knee injury. He wears a brace now when he pitches, and insisted again that the knee felt fine.
His velocity has been a modest 89-91 mph on most fastballs this spring, and Jurrjens has been lit up for 25 hits and 15 earned runs in 13 1/3 innings, with 10 walks with eight strikeouts.
He has only two more starts before the regular season. Is he worried?
“You want to see results,” Jurrjens said. “It’s still spring training. I’m not happy the way I’m pitching but I’m trying not to go too crazy [about it]. I’m still trying to figure out a lot of stuff, still trying to get more comfortable before the season starts. Right now I’m not completely happy with my performance, but I feel good.”
The way the rotation is currently lined up indicates Jurrjens is the likely opening-day starter April 5 at New York. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he hadn’t made a decision yet, and that only Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor had built up innings this spring to be opening-day options.
Gonzalez plans to make the opening-day starter decision in the next week. The positive he took from Jurrjens’ performance Tuesday was the five innings he worked, his high this spring.
“I think he just left a couple of balls over the plate that those two right-handed hitters got out of the ballpark,” Gonzalez said of homers by Ryan Raburn in the second inning and Delmon Young in the fifth. “But I thought he got better. The fourth inning was pretty good, and he was on his way to throwing a pretty good fifth inning.
“I’m not really concerned about the runs given up right now. I’m looking for him to continue building up for the major league season.”
Jurrjens gave Gonzalez a scare when the pitcher slipped and fell after his left heel got caught in a small hole that developed beneath his landing spot on the too-dry mound dirt in the fifth inning. Jurrjens got up and said he was fine to continue. He said that had no effect on his pitching.
“He’s worked so hard to get to this point and I thought there was something wrong, but it wasn’t,” Gonzalez said of the incident. “He went back out and got his work in. That was encouraging.”
Jurrjens made the NL All-Star team with his career-best first half in 2011, when he was 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA in 16 starts. It’s been a struggle ever since his knee started to ache after the All-Star break, when he went 1-3 with a 5.88 ERA in just seven starts.
Between those post-break starts and his spring outings, Jurrjens is 1-5 with a 6.91 ERA in 11 games, with 74 hits (11 homers) and 42 earned runs allowed in 54-2/3 innings, and almost as many walks (29) as strikeouts (33).
“I’m thinking too much right now on the mechanics, trying to get everything down and back where I was last year,” he said. “Just trying to push off and make sure the leg is 100 percent, and I’m taking a little concentration off the hitters. I think I need to – this is my fourth start already and I’ve been OK, no pain – I need to start concentrating on the hitters again and stop worrying about my leg….
“I’m trying not to go crazy. I try to see the positive things in every start, and that’s very difficult every day. But just keep working, and hopefully when the season starts there will be some [better] results.”