LOS ANGELES – The struggles of Jair Jurrjens continue unabated, and the question on a lot of folks’ minds was how long the Braves could afford to keep the right-hander in their starting rotation.
That was answered late Monday when Jurrjens was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett, less than an hour after the Braves’ 7-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Jurrjens (0-2) gave up nine hits and five earned runs and left without recording an out in the fourth inning of the loss, the second in a row for the Braves since they won 10 of 11.
“We optioned Jair tonight to give him a chance to work through his difficulties at the Triple-A level and hopefully come back ready to help us contend,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said in a text message after the announcement.
“He is not having any health or injury issues, just needs to get back on track pitching-wise.”
Sidearm reliever Cory Gearrin was recalled Tuesday from Triple-A Gwinnett, where he had 15 strikeouts and two walks in 12-1/3 scoreless innings over seven appearances.
With Jurrjens sent down, rookie Randall Delgado is expected to stay in the starting rotation when Tim Hudson is activated from the 15-day disabled list Sunday or Monday.
Jurrjens has a 9.37 ERA in four starts this season and has been knocked around for 30 his and 17 runs in 16-1/3 innings, with more walks (10) than strikeouts (eight).
The Jurrjens announcement was made after reporters left the clubhouse and returned to the pressbox. Jurrjens had not been told by team officials before he did his regular postgame interview with the media.
“I’m just going to keep going out there and try to do my best,” he said immediately after the game. “That’s the only thing I can do right now. I try to keep my team in the game. It’s just for now, I’m not the same guy I used to be. Just going to keep fighting.”
It’s been an alarming stretch of pitching for Jurrjens since the All-Star break in 2011 – after the best half-season of his career earned him a spot on the National League All-Star team.
He went 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA in 16 starts before the break, and got some consideration for the All-Star start before the honor went to Phillies veteran Roy Halladay.
In 11 starts since the break, Jurrjens is 1-5 with a 6.87 ERA. Now he’s gone from All-Star to Triple-A in under 10 months.
“I think everybody goes through a bad stretch,” he said. “I think mine is right now. I’ll just keep watching tape, keep working and try to get out of this funk.”
Manager Fredi Gonzalez was asked after the game if Jurrjens might be hiding an injury; Gonzalez said he hoped not and that Jurrjens did all his work between starts and was fine.
Then he was asked if the Braves might do something with Jurrjens, perhaps skip his next start with Hudson coming off the DL.
“He comes back in, what, six days, something like that?” Gonzalez said of Hudson. “There’s a lot of stuff that we could do from here. We just talked; the game was over 15 minutes ago. We’re not going to make any crazy decisions right now.”
Twenty-five minutes later, the Braves announced Jurrjens was optioned to Triple-A.
“There were some balls hit hard, but there were some balls that you couldn’t have thrown them [to a spot in the field] any better,” Gonzalez said of Jurrjens’ performance Monday. “I think JJ was a victim of some of that. Not all of it, but some of it. Some of the balls were over the plate again, but it was just one of those days for him.
“I thought Livan [Hernandez] did a terrific job there, picking up some innings [4-1/3 relief innings, two runs]…. Overall I think the good thing was we didn’t get into our bullpen.”
The Braves had scoring chances against Dodgers starter Chris Capuano (2-0), but David Ross’ leadoff homer in the second inning accounted for their only run against the left-hander, who’s had them under his thumb for three consecutive starts the past two seasons.
They didn’t score again until Dan Uggla’s leadoff homer in the eighth — his third of the season, all in the past six games.
With bases loaded in the first inning, Jason Heyward struck out for the third out. With two on and none out in the fourth, the Braves’ Jack Wilson struck out and Michael Bourn grounded out after a Jurrjens sacrifice. With two on and one out in the fifth, Matt Diaz flied out and Heyward lined out to first base.
And so it went.
They were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position against Capuano, who is 4-1 in his past eight starts against the Braves and 3-0 with a 1.28 ERA in his past three, including two last season with the New York Mets.
“He pitched out of some tough situations,” Ross said of Capuano. “He made his pitches. I thought we had some good at-bats off him. We hit some balls hard; we had some deep fly balls. I feel like guys were right on him. We had some good at-bats and some baserunners on, and we didn’t take advantage of that. Sometimes that’s just a credit to him. He doesn’t give in and he uses what he has. I don’t know if he has our number, but he definitely bears down in big situations and got the job done tonight.”
Jurrjens has allowed 44 earned runs and 79 hits in 57-2/3 innings since the 2011 All-Star break, and lasted five innings or fewer in six starts including all four this season.
His right-knee injury led to his problems in the second half last season. The same knee he hurt late in the 2010 season, when he arthroscopic surgery in October. Last year, for the second year in a row, he didn’t pitch in September.
He didn’t have more surgery, but was fitted for a supportive brace and orthotics in his cleats, the theory being that an unusual toe alignment was contributing to his knee problems.
His winter workouts went well and he showed up in fine spirits at the beginning of spring training, having shrugged off trade rumors he heard for much of the winter.
But four of his six spring starts were clunkers, the exceptions being two starts against split-squad Houston lineups at the end of the Grapefruit League schedule. Now he’s continued to struggle during the regular season, his velocity down a few ticks most of the time, his right-leg push off the mound appearing tentative at times.
He said again Monday that his knee and overall health were fine.
“It’s just not clicking,” he said. “I don’t know what to say about that.”
The Braves will activate Hudson from the DL to start Sunday or Monday against Pittsburgh, and the plan was to send Delgado to Triple-A to create a spot in the rotation for Hudson. But that was before Jurrjens’ woes kept getting deeper.
Despite his poor results, the Braves had previously given no indication they would consider sending the veteran to the minors. But he was not out of minor-league options, meaning he could be sent down without going through waivers.
Late Monday, the Braves took that drastic step.