NEW YORK – After overcoming some concerns and doubts brought on by his early spring-training struggles, pitching on extra rest didn’t seem daunting for Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens.
He starts the second game of the season Saturday against the New York Mets and will have had a full seven days off since his last spring-training start March 30. That’s three more days than usual between starts, and Jurrjens has done more work in the interim to compensate.
“I threw a long bullpen on Sunday and had a bullpen [Wednesday before the team left Atlanta],” said the right-hander, who planned some light running and throwing at the Braves’ optional workout Friday at Citi Field on a day off between the season’s first two games. The workout was closed to media.
An open date is built into most teams’ schedules after opening day in case of rainout, which would require rainchecks for a large opening-day crowd if the game wasn’t made up the next day.
Jurrjens has been around long enough not to stress over matters such as being thrown off a starter’s regular schedule because of rotation shuffling at the beginning of the season.
“Just try to keep that feeling [throwing from] the mound, nothing else you can do about it,” he said of his increased throwing between starts. “I felt good [Wednesday], worked on some little stuff I needed to work on to get ready.”
He turned a corner late in spring training, to the considerable relief of the Braves and himself. After posting a 10.13 ERA in his first four Grapefruit League starts, Jurrjens allowed just eight hits and two runs in 13 innings over his last two, with two walks and 11 strikeouts. That those two games came against Houston split-squad lineups didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the team or Jurrjens.
Jurrjens said the key to the late-spring improvement was to stop worrying about his right knee and instead focus on making every pitch and every batter. He’s pitching this year with a brace on the knee that was injured late in each of the past two seasons, causing him to miss the Braves’ September games both years and their division series loss against San Franicisco in 2010.
Last season he went 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA in a career-best first half to earn a spot on the National League All-Star team, then went 1-3 with a 5.88 ERA in seven starts after the break and didn’t pitch after Aug. 30.
He said that while he wished he didn’t have to wait a day between the season opener and his start, he’d handle it.
“Come in [Friday], run a little bit, keep the body going, long-toss and get ready for Saturday,” Jurrjens said Thursday. “Then try to do what Tommy did.”
Tommy Hanson allowed one run, four hits and three walks in five-plus innings of the Braves’ 1-0 season-opening loss. The only run in the game scored after he gave up a leadoff walk and consecutive singles to start the sixth inning.
Jurrjens will face Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey when the series resumes on Saturday.
Against the Mets, Jurrjens is 8-4 with a 2.94 ERA in 13 starts, including 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in his last two against them during an 11-day period in June. Before those games he’d been 8-2 with a 2.54 ERA against the Mets.
Dickey was 1-2 in five games (four starts) vs. Braves last year despite 2.60 ERA and .190 opponents’ average. He’ll be pleased not to face Chipper Jones, who is 4-for-8 with a homer against him. Jones is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery and hopes to come off the 15-day disabled list as soon as Tuesday, the first day he’s eligible.