LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Jair Jurrjens knows what it looked like when he compiled a 10.13 ERA in his first four spring starts, and the Braves pitcher is pleased to have alleviated the concerns of many with his work in his last two.
He pitched seven crisp innings in a 3-1 split-squad win against the Houston Astros on Friday, the second strong outing in a row for the right-hander who suddenly look as if he’s ready for the regular season. Good thing, since the season starts next week.
“Mentally it’s a big boost,” said Jurrjens, who threw 62 strikes in 94 pitches and allowed five hits, one run and one walk with four strikeouts. “And I think it makes a lot of people relax, for sure. [Laughter.] You need to get over the hump sometimes. You need to search real deep and just go out there and go all-out. I’m happy everything went well.”
In Friday’s other split-squad game between the same teams in Kissimmee, the Astros scored four runs in the fourth inning against Braves rookie Randall Delgado and won 5-1.
Jurrjens has allowed just eight hits and two runs in 13 innings over his past two starts, with two walks and 11 strikeouts. Quite a contrast to his first four starts, when he got rocked for 25 hits and 15 earned runs in 13-1/3 innings, with more walks (10) than strikeouts (eight).
Jurrjens said it was a matter of mentally getting past the fear of reinjuring his right knee and focusing instead on making every pitch.
“When you’re dealing with pain for two years it’s hard to get over that,” said Jurrjens, who is wearing a brace to protect the knee he’s injured late in each of the past two seasons. “I just needed to go search for the old J.J., go deep inside and try to bring him out. And go out there and just grind it out and have fun.”
It should be noted that both of his past two starts have come against split-squad lineups for a Houston team that’s projected to finish last in the NL Central. But Friday’s lineup included Carlos Lee and a couple of other Houston starters, and Jurrjens was in complete control after giving up two hits and a walk (but no runs) in the first inning.
Jurrjens got a double-play grounder by by Brett Wallace to work out of the bases-loaded jam in the first.
The Braves then staked him to an early lead with three runs in the bottom of the first after opening the inning with three consecutive extra-base hits – a triple by Luis Durango and doubles by Jack Wilson and Freddie Freeman – followed by Dan Uggla’s fly-out to the warning track and Jason Heyward’s sacrifice fly.
“First inning was a little inconsistent, then he settled down,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, pleased to see Jurrjens’ improvement as spring training winds down. “He knows he’s getting closer to the bell ringing, and I think he kind of mentally cranked it up. Now I think he’s ready to roll.”
After a team meeting Saturday morning, Gonzalez is expected to name Jurrjens or Tommy Hanson his opening day starter for Thursday’s game against the Mets at New York.
Delgado, who is competing for the No. 5 starter job, cruised through three scoreless, one-hit innings at Kissimmee, then saw the first five Astros reach base in the fourth on three singles and two walks. Delgado was charged with six hits, five runs (four earned) in 4-2/3 innings and has a 7.89 ERA.