LOS ANGELES – Optioning Jair Jurrjens to Triple-A Gwinnett is a move the Braves did not want to make, unless they absolutely had to.
And really, they pretty much had to.
I mean, they just couldn’t keep running Jurrjens out there once every five days the way he was pitching. Statistically, he was the worst pitcher in the major leagues so far this season, with a 9.37 ERA and .411 opponents’ average in four starts.
With the 2011 All-Star showing no real signs of snapping out of his funk and getting back to where he was 10 months ago, it was not good for him and certainly not for the Braves to keep starting him and hoping things would change.
So they sent him down. Bold move in this day and age for a 26-year-old, established pitcher. Not to mention a 2011 All-Star.
They optioned him after last night’s 7-2 loss, in which he was charged with nine hits and five runs and left without recording an out in the fourth inning. They did it after we (reporters) already had talked to Jurrjens, other players and manager Fredi Gonzalez about the game, and after we’d returned to the Dodger Stadium pressbox to update our game stories with quotes and such.
We’d made it back up to the pressbox and were typing away when the email came, afte most players had left the ballpark and the last few were headed across the Dodger Stadium outfield to the team bus or cabs. The announcement was made at 10:45 p.m. L.A. time (1:45 a.m. in Atlanta).
Not that I would’ve expected Jurrjens to say a lot more about the situation than he did after the game anyway, when he made it clear he didn’t have the answer for why he was struggling, and kept his head up and said he’d keep fighting and try to get back to being good again.
“It’s just not clicking,” he said. “I don’t know what to say about that.”
And when the next question was, would you prefer they skip your next start with Tim Hudson coming off the DL on Sunday or Monday?, Jurrjens said, “No, I’m not a quitter. I’m just going to keep going out there and try to do my best. That’s the only thing I can do right now. I try to keep my team in the game.
“It’s just [that] for now, I’m not the same guy I used to be. Just going to keep fighting.”
That statement said so much about Jurrjens – proud and determined, but also candid, brutally honest. He sounded vulnerable and a bit sad. He sounded human, in other words.
If you were there, you had to feel for him. Nevermind how much money he makes, the life he leads, etc. This is a guy who is going through some serious professional difficulties, the kind of thing that a young athlete doesn’t expect to deal with in the prime of his career. Especially not one who scaled such heights less than 10 months ago, when Jurrjens was a first-time NL All-Star.
He’s not the same pitcher now. Not even close
Jurrjens has pitched 16-1/3 innings in four starts, so he falls short of the minimum qualifying standard for rankings, which is one inning per team game. The Braves have played 17 games.
But if he did qualify, if he wasn’t two outs shy, Jurrjens would rank dead last in the majors in ERA (9.37) and opponents’ avg (.411), on-base percentage (.482) and slugging percentage (.685)
He would also rank last in opposing average by left-handed batters at .471. Lefties are 16-for-34 against him with three homers, five walks and a .538 OBP and .824 slugging (1.362 OPS).
Righties are 14-or-39 (.359) with with five walks, three strikeout, a .432 OBP and .996 OPS.
He’s also last in the NL in opponents’ average with men on base at .586 (17-for-29).
Keep in mind, this is a pitcher who was 12-3 with a 1.86 ERA and .229 opponents’ average in 16 starts before the 2011 All-Star break, with 65 strikeouts, 25 walks and five homers allowed in 110-2/3 innings.
In 11 starts since then Jurrjens is 1-5 with a 6.87 ERA and .335 opponents’ average, with 33 strikeouts, 29 walks and 14 homers in 57-2/3 innings.
Whether it all stems from problems with his balky right knee, which shortened each of his past two seasons in 2010 and 2011, I don’t know. As I’ve written here, a scout for an American League team told me during spring training that many teams believe Jurrjens’ knee is a chronic injury that can’t be fixed by surgery.
I don’t know if that’s true; scouts say a lot of things off the record. But I don’t think it’s irresponsible to repeat it here for one reason — if other teams believe something, if they think Jurrjens is hurt, then it becomes newsworthy because it has and will affect his trade value, whether accurate or not.
Jurrjens said again last night that the knee felt fine, that he’s healthy and feels good.
As long as he keeps pitching and stays off the DL, all we can go on is what he and the team tell us. Both parties obviously want Jurrjens to be healthy and for everyone to believe that he’s healthy. Because nothing is much more damaging to a player’s trade value than whispers of a possible injury.
Same goes for a player’s value when he hits free agency (Jurrjens could be a free agent after the 2013 season, provided he doesn’t spen more than about two months in the minors between now and then (that’s my rough estimate after figuring his service time).
Again, Jurrjens says the knee is not causing his problems. But he’s wearing a brace on it when he pitches and works out. His velocity has been down a few ticks most games in the past year or so, but last night he did hit 90 mph plenty with his fastball.
With good movement and location, and secondary pitches as good as he’s had before, he can be successful with a 90 mph fastball.
“I think he had better stuff today,” veteran backup catcher David Ross said after Monday night’s game. “Honestly, you know, I don’t look at the radar gun or anything like that, but I felt like he made some pitches and got beat today. I felt like he made some pitches in to [Andre] Ethier. We kept Matt Kemp at bay for how hot he is. Mark Ellis, we kept him at bay. Dee Gordon got on [but] I felt like we kept him at check a little bit. The bottom of their lineup really stepped up today and did a good job.”
Indeed, the stunning stat from Monday’s game: Dodgers Nos. 6-8 hitters James Loney, Juan Uribe and A.J. Ellis had six hits in six plate appearances against Jurrjens. Each of them went 2-for-2 against him.
“They weren’t trying to pull JJ, they hit him the other way,” Ross said. “It seemed like a ton of balls got hit to right today by right-handed hitters, so that’s a good approach. I was just telling him [after the game], I thought he made some good pitches and got bad results. I thought they had a good approach, but he was making some pitches that he got beat on.”
Folks, I really don’t know what the ending is going to be to this story. No one does.
Jurrjens will go to Triple-A for what the Braves hope will, as GM Frank Wren said in a text last night, “give him a chance to work through his difficulties at the AAA level and hopefully come back ready to help us contend. He is not having any health or injury issues, just needs to get back on track pitching-wise.”
For his sake and the team’s, I’ll hope that happens. Because it’s rough seeing any good guy struggle professionally in what should be the beginning of the prime of his career.
• Gearrin called up: Taking Jurrjens’ roster spot for now will be reliever Cory Gearrin, who was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett and is supposed to be in uniform for tonight’s game. The sidearmer had 15 strikeouts with two walks in 12-1/3 scoreless innings over seven relief appearances at Gwinnett, with 10 hits and a 0.973 WHIP.
Gearrin nearly made the team out of spring training, but stumbled in consecutive appearances at the end of camp. The Braves decided to add some experience and signed righty Chad Durbin instead of going with Gearrin or lefty Yohan Flande, who has also been dominant at Gwinnett (Gearrin is on the 40-man roster; Flande is not).
As a Braves rookie in 2011, Gearrin had a 7.85 ERA in 18 appearances, an ERA inflated by two terrible outings in his last three appearances. He had a 3.38 ERA and .193 opponents’ average in his first 15 major league appearances, with 21 strikeouts and six walks in 16 innings.
But then he gave up six runs while recording just one out at Philadelphia on July 10, and four more runs (and four walks) in one inning at Colorado on July 19. He didn’t pitch again in the majors last season.
Gearrin held right-handed hitters to a .143 average (6-for-42) with 18 strikeouts and a .167 slugging percentage, but lefties torched him at a .393 clip (11-for-28) with four extra-base hits, a .514 OBP and .643 slugging.
To be more effective against lefties, Gearrin spent the offseason working on his changeup. He made more progress in the spring after listening to advice from pitching coach Roger McDowell on taking some velocity off his fastball at times and get more sinking movement, which has been particularly effective against lefties.
Tonight’s matchup: Mike Minor pitched well but no decision in his only start against the Dodgers, allowing six hits and one run in six innings. A.J. Ellis is 1-for-2 with a homer against him, while James Loney (2-for-3) is the only Dodger with more than one hit againstthe left-hander.
Minor is 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA in two night games (his past two starts were at night, after a rough start in a day game at New York in the opening series). Right-handed batters are 7-for-49 (.143) against minor with a .211 OBP and .184 slugging percentage, while lefties are 6-for-18 with a .368 OBP and .444 slugging against the right-hander.
Minor’s change-up makes him effective against righties, similar to how Tom Glavine’s change-up did for the great Braves lefty.
Dodgers right-hander Aaron Harang is 1-3 with a 4.53 ERA in nine starts against the Braves, and gave up eight runs in three homers in an April 26, 2011 start against them at Dodger Stadium.
Brian McCann is 11-for-20 with two homers against Harang and David Ross is 4-for-9 with three homers – yes, the Braves catchers are 15-for-29 with five homers against him. Chipper Jones is 6-for-15 with a homer, and Dan Uggla is 9-for-24 with two homers against Harang.
Braves shortstops Tyler Pastornicky and Jack Wilson are a combined 10-for-64 (.156) with two walks, 13 strikeouts and a .179 OBP…. Braves third basemen Jones, Juan Francisco and Martin Prado are a combined 18-for-66 (.273) with four homers, 13 RBIs and a .500 slugging perentage. Jones and Francisco have two homers apiece and all the RBIs (Prado has 16 at-bats at 3B).
• Let’s close with a great tune by Sharon Van Etten off her recent album Tramp. She’s playing at The EARL in Atlanta on Wednesday. You can hear the song by clicking here.
“SERPENTS” by Sharon Van Etten
Serpents in my mind, looking for your cries
I don’t want life to this time
You enjoy sucking on dreams,
so I will fall asleep
with someone other than you,
I had a thought, you would take me
Seriously and listen up
Serpents in my mind,
I am searching for your cries
Everything changes, in time you’ll stay, frozen in time
…. girls, controlling minds
You hold the mirror, to everybody else
Serpents in my mind, trying to forgive
Everyone changes, in time
I hope he changes, this time.
– by David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog