Washington - After a four-game odyssey in about 45 hours against the first-place Nationals, the Braves are right back where they started.
In a pivotal game Sunday – the difference between a series victory and negating the momentum built in winning the first two games – the Braves got little help from Jair Jurrjens in a 9-2 loss to the Nationals.
He was roughed up for six runs in 2 1/3 innings including two home runs by Ryan Zimmerman.
The Braves came to Nationals Park with a 3 ½ game deficit in the NL East and that’s how they’ll leave, heading for Miami for the start of a three-game series.
“We’ve struggled with our consistency because we’ve struggled at the end of our rotation, and you saw it today,” said Chipper Jones, who went 5-for-13 with a home run and five RBIs in the series. “It’s a little demoralizing when you’re in a dogfight for the division and you’re constantly fighting from behind.”
The Braves nearly came full circle. After rallying back from a nine-run deficit Friday night to win the first of two games in the series, they found themselves down nine runs again by the sixth inning Sunday.
Jurrjens’ reclamation project, which showed promise over a four-start span, has sputtered in his last two. After going 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA in four starts back from the minor leagues, Jurrjens has given up 17 hits and 14 earned runs in 5 2/3 innings, for a 22.24 ERA. The Braves have lost his past two starts by a combined score of 18-2.
The Braves weren’t prepared to make a decision on whether Jurrjens might be headed back to the minors, perhaps in favor of Randall Delgado, or if he might be skipped in the rotation with an upcoming off day Thursday.
“We’ve got time to think about that,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Jurrjens seems to be running out of it though. The real competition between the Nationals and Braves now might be to see which one can land a Ryan Dempster or Zack Greinke before the trade deadline.
When asked if he expected the Braves to keep him in the rotation, Jurrjens said: “I hope so. It’s two bad starts. I know it’s really two ugly ones, but since I came up I’ve been really dependable. I hope they give me a chance to prove myself again.”
He was leaving pitches up, couldn’t put hitters away with two strikes and struggled to get his fastball inside to left-handers.
“It’s running back like a two-seamer and I’m trying to throw a four-seamer then,” Jurrjens said. “That’s something I need to go back and see if I’m dropping my arm slot again and try to get on top of it.”
Jurrjens has struggled with his fastball velocity, but that didn’t seem to be his biggest issue Sunday. He hit 91 mph with fastballs to Zimmerman but gave up the home runs on a pair of two-strike change-ups.
“Getting to two strikes was easy for me today but after two strikes, I didn’t know how to make a quality pitch to get them out,” Jurrjens said. “I made a lot of mistakes. A lot of pitches came back over the plate, and they made it hurt.”
After scoring 11 runs in six innings during their rally Friday night, the Braves managed only eight runs in three games since, including two runs in seven innings each from left-handers John Lannan and Ross Detwiler.
After showing signs of breaking out of his six-week malaise with a three-hit game Friday, Dan Uggla went 0-for-9 with five strikeouts, two walks and a hit by pitch over the final three games of the series. He is now 15-for-124 (.120) in 38 games since his four-hit, two-homer game June 6 in his last trip to Miami.
“Our chance to win the series was last night, and we didn’t get it done,” said Jones, referring to the 2-0 lead the Braves had early in Game 2 of Saturday’s doubleheader. “Today was not good from pitch one.”