NEW YORK – With Brandon Beachy probably out for the season due to a partially torn elbow ligament, the Braves now more than ever need Jair Jurrjens to return to something resembling his old form.
Beachy is headed to see Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday, and Jurrjens will head to Boston to take over his turn in the starting rotation for Friday’s series opener against the Red Sox.
“I’m curious to see him pitch,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Jurrjens on Tuesday, a day after getting the bad news about Beachy. “Obviously not under these circumstances, when somebody gets hurt. But it’s good to have a guy [to plug in] who made the All-Star team last year.”
The Braves hope that Jurrjens will at least resemble the pitcher he was in the first half of the 2011 season, when he went 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA and made the National League All-Star team, rather than the woeful pitcher he was this season before his demotion to Triple-A Gwinnett.
Jurrjens went 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA and .411 opponents’ average in four starts before being sent down and instructed to work on improving most aspects of his game, from fastball velocity to conditioning.
His statistics at Gwinnett have not been impressive – 3-4 record, 5.27 ERA, .294 opponents average and seven homers allowed in nine starts before Tuesday, with 28 strikeouts and 12 walks in 56-1/3 innings. But Gonzalez insists reports from the Gwinnett coaching staff have been glowing, and said Jurrjens made progress in areas that needed addressing.
“We asked him to improve his consistency on his [velocity], which he has,” Gonzalez said. “Strengthen the [speed difference] in his changeup and his fastball, and he’s done that. And I think he’s come up with a slider that’s got more depth on it. I’m curious to see him pitch, I really am.”
Curious and hopeful. Because if Andrews’ second opinion on Beachy’s injury is what most expect it to be and surgery is recommended, the Braves are going to need the rest of their starters to pick up some slack. That, or trade for an established veteran pitcher, which would likely cost the Braves a prospect or two and stress a payroll that has little room under the Braves’ current self-imposed limit.
Beachy’s 2.00 ERA was tied with the Mets’ R.A. Dickey for the major league lead among qualifying starters, and the Braves right-hander’s .171 opponents’ average was the majors’ best. Expecting the rest of the rotation to pick up the slack would seem a bit unrealistic.
“You can only do so much,” said Tommy Hanson, who’ll start Wednesday’s series finale against the Yankees. “It definitely sucks for our team that Beachy’s not going to be there.”
Jurrjens allowed two walks and no hits with two strikeouts in one inning Tuesday for Gwinnett, making a brief appearance so he wouldn’t go six days without facing hitters prior to Friday’s return to the Braves.
It’ll be with anticipation, and perhaps some crossed fingers, that the Braves run him out to face the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
“It could be huge,” Gonzalez said. “That’s a big pickup if he comes back in the form like he had last year and replaces Beachy in the rotation. That could be a big deal for us.”
Not only for the immediate benefit of the team, Gonzalez said, but also possibly to keep other teams from trying to take advantage of Atlanta if the Braves pursue a trade for another pitcher.
“What it does, if JJ comes out and pitches well, the snipers all of a sudden they don’t raise their prices if we decide we want [to trade for a pitcher],” Gonzalez said. “They won’t say, you need him really bad, so instead of this [asking price] it’s these two other guys.”