The results have been poor, his pitches ineffective, but Jair Jurrjens’ attitude is something the Braves struggling ace has going for him.
Jurrjens reported to Triple-A Gwinnett on Wednesday, two days after being told of his minor league demotion, and it sounded like his mind was in the right place.
Disappointed? Yes. Angry? No.
“If you’re honest with yourself, I have nobody to blame but myself,” said Jurrjens, who was 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA in four starts this season. “I cannot be mad at anybody other than me.”
Jurrjens called it a “reality check,” and said it hasn’t been easy.
Monday was a long night for him, after he was called into manager Fredi Gonzalez’s office in the visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, following three rough innings in a 7-2 loss.
“It was hard,” said Jurrjens, 26, a first-time All-Star in 2011. “Especially when you have a couple years in the big leagues, and it looks so easy and suddenly you go through a rough patch and it’s hard to figure out what’s going on.”
He called his parents Carl and Esther Jurrjens in Curacao in the wee hours Monday night, not wanting them to hear about it through the media first.
“It’s a little heartbreaking when you make your dad cry for the wrong reasons,” Jurrjens said. “It’s just going to make me push myself when I’m down here to get back up there and put that smile back on his face.”
Jurrjens said his father didn’t break down while they were talking, but his brother texted him later that his father had gotten emotional.
“It (stinks) when you let your family down a little bit,” Jurrjens said. “They support me and are pushing me to make sure I keep my head up and I keep pushing to get back up there.”
Jurrjens had 72 hours to report but chose to go ahead and come in on Wednesday after taking Tuesday to fly back from Los Angeles and catch up on some rest.
He spent Wednesday afternoon long tossing and taking pitchers’ fielding practice during an early workout, with his shades on and the familiar Puka shell necklace poking out of the top of his Gwinnett Braves uniform.
“It’s a learning experience right now,” Jurrjens said. “Before I left the house, my fiancée said, ‘Just go there and try to have fun. This is the game you love. Don’t go out there with a pouty face and show everybody you’re not happy to be here.’”
Jurrjens said he had a similar conversation with Gwinnett manager Dave Brundage when he arrived at Coolray Field.
“He didn’t want me to be hanging my head down,” Jurrjens said. “That’s my main thing try to get out of that funk and clear my mind and start having fun. When I start having fun again, I think everything is going to click.”
Jurrjens knows there are no easy answers. He said his right knee, which hindered him at the end of the past two seasons, is fine. “Actually I wish I had something to blame it on,” Jurrjens said. “That’s the funny part.”
He did acknowledge he might need to build up his leg strength a little more. He also wonders if he lost too much weight over the offseason, when he dropped from 210 to 194.
He’s eager to study video to see if he’s been lowering his arm angle, costing his pitches some late movement. He also understands that his problems may stem from a loss of confidence. He thinks he might be pitching with some hesitation left over from the pain he felt pushing off on his knee last season.
“You try to be aggressive, but when stuff starts going the wrong way, everybody is human,” Jurrjens said. “You want to play tough, but still it’s going to play with your mindset a little bit. Just need to try to get that mindset back that I’m going to get you out and I think I’ll be fine.”
This is Jurrjens’ first demotion in five seasons with the Braves. He said the Tigers sent him down to Single-A Lakeland Fla. when he struggled his second year in Double-A Erie in 2007. Two weeks later he was back up in Erie, and he pitched in the majors for the first time that August.
“I’m here to figure out what’s going on,” said Jurrjens, whose next scheduled day to pitch is Saturday in Toledo. “I take it as a time to calm down and not stress so much and try to get back to having fun. Try to learn – that’s the main thing – and correct the things I’m doing wrong. And go back to the big team and try to help them out.”