Jurrjens can’t give Braves the great start they need

It was a rare bad night for Jair Jurrjens, and the Braves didn't have a lineup to make up for it. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Braves didn't have lineup to make up for rare bad night by Jair Jurrjens. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

(Updated at 11:15 p.m.)

On a night when Jair Jurrjens attempted to continue his season with an arm that has seemed just this side of bionic, the Braves supported him with a starting lineup that seemed just this side of Gwinnett.

Three starters (Martin Prado, Jason Heyward, Nate McLouth) were on the disabled list. Another one (Freddie Freeman) was scratched just before game time with an oblique strain. A fifth regular, Brian McCann, was just being rested – presumably in a protective bubble.

This isn’t the ideal way to attack a division race, but then probabilities seldom entered the equation last year.

Here’s the issue: The Braves have left themselves little margin for error. So on nights when one of their pitchers proves to be less than spectacular, which was the case Tuesday with Jurrjens, they’re pretty much sunk.

They opened a nine-game homestand with a 4-3 loss to the New York Mets. Maybe it’s time to go back on the road.

It says something that Jurrjens, the Braves’ best pitcher, can have his worst night of the season and still allow only four earned runs. It also says something that four runs isn’t going to be good enough when a team’s starting lineup shows these batting averages: .235, .180, .266, .276, .264, .295, .227, .196, .125.

“I know we’re not blowing away teams,” said Dan Uggla, whose eighth-inning homer remarkably closed the Mets’ lead to one run (made possible by the fact New York stranded 13 base runners). “But this doesn’t define us.”

Maybe it won’t all season, but it does now. When Freeman was injured in batting practice, the need for a great performance by Jurrjens became that much more urgent. Didn’t happen. He didn’t have his control, walking a season-high five batters. He wasn’t able to get ahead of hitters and then nibble at the corners from both sides of the plate, as he has most of this season. He allowed a season-high four earned runs (albeit, hardly a collapse) in a season-low 5 1/3 innings.

“It was one of those games where you know what you’re doing wrong and you’re trying to fix it but you just make it worse,” he said.

Jurrjens has been a wonder to watch this season. In his first 11 starts, he had a majors-best ERA of 1.82 — something that had been achieved to this point of a season by only four previous Braves pitchers: one Hall of Famer (Phil Niekro), two future Hall of Famers (Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine) and a guy named Buzz (Capra, who also was pretty good).

This is when a Braves fan sits back and thinks, “We’re set.” The team’s two best starting pitchers have been the young ones: Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson. Both had 8-2 records with ERAs belonging in lights. This is when you believe: All will be well. Because at some point, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe will catch up with these two — and soon, maybe somebody will even hit the ball for more than two games in a row.

A recent six-game winning streak notwithstanding, the Braves just aren’t there yet.

Jurrjens left in the sixth inning. He somehow trailed only 4-1, having worked his way out of several jams.  But by the time Fredi Gonzalez pulled him, he had thrown 104 pitches.

Nobody is going to complain. Jurrjens already has exceeded his win total of a year ago (7-6). He may very well be this team’s ace for the rest of the season. He has been this season’s bonus baby. He started this season as a question mark, his ERA ballooning from 2.60 in 2009 to 4.64 last year.

Many of his problems were related to injuries, mostly knee and hamstring that limited him to 20 starts (down from 34). But it wasn’t just that. He had showed up for the season a little out of condition, soft both mentally and physically.

He admitted it when he arrived at spring training this year, having slimmed down. He said he realized that he needed “to be smarter,” adding, “That’s things you learn, how to work out, how to take care of yourself better. I’m a little bit more mature now …”

The Braves are a little sensitive to poorly conditioned players from Curacao. Andruw Jones’ slipped in that area late in his career. So Jurrjens’ wake-up call was important.

“I think he’s in better shape this year,” Hudson said. “Disappointment from the season before for a professional athlete will drive you in the offseason. You’re hungry to prove to yourself and other people that you’re better than that.”

Jurrjens’ resume to this point suggests that what happened Tuesday was an aberration. But if the Braves can’t pose a greater threat at the plate, they’re giving their pitchers little room for error.

By Jeff Schultz

Earlier: Countdown: Vote for LeBron, someone else in Count’s first hate poll

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

59 comments Add your comment

Feeanch

June 14th, 2011
10:37 pm

5150 UOAD

June 14th, 2011
10:38 pm

That HURT tonight no sense of urgency in the hitting.

PMC

June 14th, 2011
10:48 pm

Well, you’re not going to get great pitching every single night. As much as we’ve had it here.

Sometimes the offense has to bail you out.

chpatt

June 14th, 2011
10:52 pm

I definitely agree with the “lack of urgency” complaint with the bats. This is the difference between really good hitting teams (Rangers, Red Sox, Yankees, Reds) and really good pitching teams (Phillies, Giants, Mariners). Okay maybe not the Mariners yet, but almost.

The Rangers, Red Sox and Yankees look at a start where a pitcher gives up 4 runs in 6 innings and it’s a win 7 out of 10 times. Right now, we don’t have the lineup to pitch like that.

The Giant and Phillies and sometimes the Mariners scored give up 2 runs every game, sometimes even less and they battle and battle until the end and many times come up with the big hit.

Well this year, the Braves don’t have the same magic as last year. We just don’t have it. We can’t afford for our starters to pitch like JJ did tonight because we have a minor league lineup in multiple spots.

Joe Mather: prolific minor league power hitter. Very little evidence of consistency at the big league level.

Matt Young: Too small. Fast, but a singles hitter and we don’t need anymore of those players.

Brandon Hicks: Big league body. But no skills with the bat whatsoever. Supposed to be a great fielder but vs. the Astros he made ugly throws and seemed nervous, even though he’s played more than a couple of handfuls of big league games.

Jordan Schafer: I’ll give Jordan the benefit of the doubt. But he has a long way to go. However, I think we are better with his speed than with we are with Nate.

Diory Hernandez: Great defensively and has shown promise pinch-hitting, but it’s only so long until big league pitching makes adjustments on him.

The problem is that tonight we had 2 players starting who will never be every day players. Not to mention ANOTHER day off for McCann.

I hate these lineups, but i guess there’s nothing we can do until Prado and Heyward come back. We really need both of them.

PMC

June 14th, 2011
10:54 pm

I understand the pitching is great across the board in the league.

But seriously, what is the hitting coach responsible for? If they aren’t going to be held accountable for a team hitting collectively as poorly as this one what is the point of having a hitting coach?

Why not just let every players dad or old coach give them pointers?

PMC

June 14th, 2011
10:55 pm

Look at the outfielders of the last decade, how many hitters has this organization developed?

This is a serious organizational problem.

PMC

June 14th, 2011
11:01 pm

All this said, last week was excellent even if it was the Marlins and Astros.

Blueland Buddha

June 14th, 2011
11:02 pm

For all the talk of the Braves line-up, look at the Mets line-up. No David Wright. No Ike Davis. Jason Bay is benched and completely lost. Enough of the excuses. One mediocre lineup beat another mediocre lineup. One starter made the most of his opportunity and one didn’t. That is the story of tonight.

JSS

June 14th, 2011
11:04 pm

Oh snap, Freddie done gone and got himself some Chipperitis! “My side, my side!!!”

bias

June 14th, 2011
11:06 pm

SCHAFE 0/4 I BUNT ATTEMPT SINCE INJURY,THINKS HE IS A HR HITTER WHAT A JOKE,NOW I LAST 12 YEAH SCHAFER IS THE ANSWER

bias

June 14th, 2011
11:08 pm

THIS TEAM IS A JOKE PLAY SOMEBODY OTHER THAN HOUSTON AND U SEE THE RESULTS EXPECT THE BRAVES TO GO 3-7 THIS HOMESTAND

bias

June 14th, 2011
11:09 pm

BRING UP CONSTANZA,WILKINS,RELEASE MATHER,YOUNG,HICKS.IDIOTS
NORTON LIVES ON!!!!!!!!!!!

bias

June 14th, 2011
11:10 pm

Schafer is not the answer him and ff are hr hitters now.PUT THE DAM BALL ON THE GROUND SCHAFER

bias

June 14th, 2011
11:12 pm

JJ?best pitcher?2 losses to the mets,thanks for the laugh.

bias

June 14th, 2011
11:15 pm

this team only cares about pitching,look at the draft last 20 years only players they have are bmac,chipper that are home grown,frenchy was but we all know what happend there.Funny how brave players leave atlanta and excel somewhere else.dye,jones,kj,frenchy,wilson,etc.

bias

June 14th, 2011
11:16 pm

trade jj now he is a scott boras agent braves wont sign him for less than 8 million next year BANK ON IT

Jeff Schultz

June 14th, 2011
11:28 pm

Game column has been updated with quotes. FYI, no definite prognosis on Freeman in terms of whether he’ll play tomorrow but Freeman thought he could’ve pinch hit tonight if needed.

Moxie

June 14th, 2011
11:58 pm

Can you guys every write anything positive about the Braves? The guy is allowed a bad game. And yes the offense isn’t producing as much as we like, but they are 38-30. You and Mark both are Debbie Downers. Its quite depressing.

kirkinga

June 15th, 2011
12:10 am

…trade jj now he is a scott boras agent …

@bias, Tommy Hanson is also a Boras client, so why does he get to stay and not JJ?

Fact of the matter is that the Braves need to pay both of them big money if they continue on the same trajectory. We cannot have it both ways. We can’t complain that owners don’t pay for talent and then turn around and complain that top-shelf players want top money.

With Chipper, Lowe, Kawakami, and then Hudson gone, there will be plenty of payroll space to pay up for these guys and a couple of others the team obviously is going to need. Boras is a pain, but his client usually perform at a very high level.

Bill

June 15th, 2011
12:14 am

Jeff, Buzz Capra was something else not only good pitcher but great with fans..My son has picture of them together taken by Art.at game.

J-Man

June 15th, 2011
12:19 am

We need a right hand bat off the bench

deb mavrick

June 15th, 2011
12:38 am

Guess it had nothing to do with Jonathan Neise?

Najeh Davenpoop

June 15th, 2011
12:53 am

First Braves game I went to this year. If they are going to start an AAA lineup they should charge AAA ticket prices.

Fab Five Fredi

June 15th, 2011
3:20 am

The Braves are going to have to make some serious changes to their offense. Chipper is one hang nail or Hooters hot wing away from the DL and Uggla is still swinging for the fences and has no business playing second base. Hurtward has not been the same player since his injury last season and the fact that the league has learned how to pitch to the supposed phenom. No real threat at CF, Poorly constructed bench. Time to use some of that “great” pitching the Braves have and make some trades. Frank Do your job, the offense has been offensive for years.

Chop Chop

June 15th, 2011
3:34 am

I don’t expect Huddy and Lowe to catch up to the young guys. They’re old and due for decline. Jurrjens and Hanson have to be very good in order for this team to really contend for a World Series title.

Fab Five Fredi

June 15th, 2011
3:44 am

Trade Hurtward and Randall Delgado the Dodgers for Kemp, Trade Uggla, Schafer and a mid-tier pitching prospect to the Red Sox for Ellsbury. Wouldn’t be too bad of a lineup.

1. Ellsbury CF
2. Prado 2B
3. Chipper 3B
4. McCann C
5. Kemp RF
6. Freeman 1B
7. Hinske/McLouth LF
8, Gonzalez SS

clay

June 15th, 2011
4:05 am

people are so dumb

Packer Ed

June 15th, 2011
6:46 am

Maybe the Braves management should put a call into the Green Bay Packers and talk. The Packers had the most injuries in 2010 and stil found a way to win, Braves need to know the secret as the Braves must lead the league in inuries to starters.

SimpleDawg

June 15th, 2011
7:19 am

Jurrjens didn’t have it from the first pitch. Seems like every pitch was up in the strike zone and/or up and out of the strike zone. He never could get Jose Reyes out, nor Willie Harris, and from there, it was off to the races for the Mets.

Granted, had the Braves put up more offense earlier, then Jurrjens’ problems wouldn’t have been so glaring, but it’s hard to scatter a walk per inning when the other team’s first 3 hitters are always on base.

JJ just didn’t have it…. If he had stayed in the game any longer, there’s no telling how many more runs he would have surrendered.

Stan Drulia

June 15th, 2011
8:39 am

Was at the game last night and thought that we started to look a lot better after the third. I personally think that Jordan Schafer has been really good this year… seems like maybe he has grown up enough to realize this is likely his last chance to prove himself – he is obviously talented, just young and stupid. I hope he continues to improve.

dean

June 15th, 2011
8:41 am

GET RID OF JJ! HE SUCKS! THE WORST PITCHER IN THE HISTORY OF MLB! WHO IS THE IDIOT WHO KEEPS TROTTING HIM OUT THERE?! WHAT A LOOSER!

(I’m just heading “them” off at the pass.)

Dr. Phil

June 15th, 2011
9:05 am

There are way too many injuries on this team. Something is wrong when you hurt yourself taking batting practice.

Sonny Clusters

June 15th, 2011
9:06 am

“I know we’re not blowing away teams,” said Dan Uggla, whose eighth-inning homer remarkably closed the Mets’ lead to one run (made possible by the fact New York stranded 13 base runners). “But this doesn’t define us.”

Sure it does.

Bobby Cox, Jr

June 15th, 2011
9:08 am

Fredi is using David Ross as JJ’s personal catcher. So I wouldn’t call it “resting McCann” in a “protective bubble”. Ross is the best backup catcher in the MLB and his game calling behind the plate has worked well for JJ this far.

Sonny Clusters

June 15th, 2011
9:13 am

This team is physically drained much like Bobby Cox teams of the past. Using extra fields at spriing practice doesn’t make the players fit. Getting hurt in batting practice is ridiculous. How long before a pitcher pulls a hamstring going to first? Some things never change. When we was playing ball Coach always made us run a little and stretch some, too. If we ever fell down on our knees when we swung and missed, Coach would have sent us down to the JV team to get things straightened out. Like Chipper says, “uh”.

JackDennis

June 15th, 2011
9:22 am

This thread is living proof that most of you mopes don’t know squat about baseball.

swiss tider

June 15th, 2011
9:22 am

Ross appears to be a much better defensive catcher than McCann and calls a better game.Trade McCann while you can still get value for him,

Joey

June 15th, 2011
9:24 am

Why is Constanza not on this team?

jon

June 15th, 2011
9:27 am

Trade McCann… r u stoned?

Sonny Clusters

June 15th, 2011
9:30 am

We was thinking the team is playing one way and the players and manager are talking another way. In huntin’ that is called “denial” . . . When a Buck Commander is shooting at deer and missing but saying something like, “Uh, we know we will hit something if we keep shootin’ . . . ” That is a lot like what Fredi and the Braves are saying. If the hunter shoots and falls down and ends up killing his dog, then his huntin’ mechanics are off. That’s a lot like a baseball player that swings as hard as he can at a low and outside pitch and ends up on the ground like a sissy and his manager insists that “he’s almost there”. Last night’s game was not much fun to watch unless you are a Reyes fan.

E-6

June 15th, 2011
9:41 am

Good question above – about Met’s pitcher Neise. Going into last night’s game he had the best ERA for the past month among all NL starters – this is not Kyle Kendrick we’re talking about.

And no, our bench is not poorly constructed. Last night we had our bench playing two (maybe three) of the outfield spots, first and catcher. The problem is injuries not the bench.

Won’t bother replying to the trade a five time All Star comment.

Turtsnap

June 15th, 2011
10:24 am

Great blog Jeff. I was wondering myself, why the Braves put out such an anemic lineup to start a Home Stand. Especially with your top pitcher on the hill. Granted the Freeman injury, but why rest B-Mac with all the other scrubs currently in the line up? I scratch my head.

I will be there tonight and will be very disappointed if they trot out a similar line up.

I heard a rumor, btw, which I know can’t be seriously considered. I heard Lowe to the Yanks for Granderson…… there is NO WAY the Yanks would consider something like that, so I know it is just somebodies fanatical pipe-dream that is getting some circulation.

Ted M

June 15th, 2011
10:32 am

So many great pitching performances have already been blown you can’t expect our pitchers to be lights out every single outing. The bats should have picked up JJ last night.

Ted M

June 15th, 2011
10:34 am

The Dodgers would have to be insane to trade Kemp. They are not.

Sonny Clusters

June 15th, 2011
11:02 am

This team needs Prado. With Prado gone, they are very average. It’s a lot like taking a Clusters out of the lineup, only different.

Doug

June 15th, 2011
11:18 am

Trade McCann huh? I thought the Sun was brutal out here in Arizona :) )

Have to be somewhat realistic about trades, if you want quality like a Kemp ( if even available) it would take away as much as we’d get in return.

How about a player like Michael Young in Texas? Getting older yes but terrific hitter still and can play just about anyplace, certainly 2b,ss or 3b probably Lf also. Texas would deal him for some pitching, maybe even a prospect type.

The Giants are desperate for a catcher with Possey gone, while I really like Ross we could probably get some decent value, although not sure SF has alot of bats to offer?

Lowe or Hudson could be dangled at the Yankees… they don’t have the pitching to stay with the Red Sox all season. The Yankees know it and they will deal.

Looking at “our” Braves minor league system I don’t see alot of hitting either… we put so much pressure on the pitching staff to be alomost perfect.

I know the old saying “good pitching stops hitting ” but if you also have no hitting what good is wasteing nice outings so often?

The Fans shouldn’t have to be rooting for a wildcard spot…. why not win the East period. Any offense and the Phils would be chaseing us!!

Cliff Lee

June 15th, 2011
11:23 am

You guys stink.

Marteen is a Ballplayer

June 15th, 2011
12:07 pm

I read these blogs less and less and I wish I had kept that up today. I truly hope most of you posters on here are just stirring the pot and are not even half serious with your recommedations. We have one of the best records in baseball, we have lived on the road this year (two West Coast trips already), our entire outfield in on the DL, our 3B is playing with a torn meniscus, and you still type in ALL CAPS and act like you have a clue.

The league is a pitching league again. The Braves have always been a pitch-first team since the early 90’s. No one is saying that we do not have issues with hitting…but you can say that about all except maybe four teams in baseball. The Mets are a major-league ballclub, albeit a bad one. We are going to lose games to them. JJ is going to have a bad game. I vomit a little bit in my mouth every time someone suggests trading JJ or, seriously, McCann?

Going out to get another bat is premature and the cost being suggested on these blogs is ridiculous. We will get Prado back, we will get Heyward back, and we will get McClouth back. Prado is a game-changer and is worth more than any other bat out there right now. I’m not tellling you he is the best pure hitter, but the combination of his hitting, clutch-hitting, and overall impact on the team is amazing. You can put him anywhere on the field and anywhere in the lineup and he will be successful.

I too am alarmed by Heyward’s injuries, but the guy is an asset to the team. Should we trade him too while he is only making $450k a year? Just throw in the towel now?

Disgusting. This team has problems (so do the Phillies and they have had a far easier schedule so far). Every team has problems. The Red Sox are going to get shut-out sometimes (see last night). it is baseball. Be happy we are in the thick of things with all the injuries. Be happy we have arguable the best bullpen in baseball. Be happy you have Kimbrel producing at such a young age instead of focusing on his blown saves. Be happy you have Chipper playing nearly every day with a torn meniscus. Be happy we have a team worth talking about. And most of all, be happy Uggla is showing signs of life and our offense can only get better when the injured players return.

We will never be an offensive juggernaut this year, but we can be average hitting when the players return. Average hitting and superb hitting equals a club that can to the World Series. Chill out.

iTiSi

June 15th, 2011
12:14 pm

It actually started Mon. night with the last game at Houston. Fredeeeeeeeeeeeeee Gonzalez came up with the “BCS” (Bobby Cox Syndrome). Just as the Braves were about to pull even with the Phillies, he decides to trot out the “B team lineup” just because the series was already won. They dropped that game, of course, and then last night to start a two game losing streak. BC use to drive me crazy doing that. I could predict it every time. It seems FG was observing BC too much and is doing this. Here’s the mindset: “Every game in the season is not important, just the last month of the year”. These guys are paid huge sums to PLAY EVERY GAME, even with minor nagging injuries. The average working man goes to work everyday, making far less, with aches and pains, and strains, so in my opinion they are all becoming “sissies and wussies” !!!!!!!

JASon

June 15th, 2011
12:15 pm

Its amazing the way that pitchers who start the season on a tear almost always hit a brick wall around the 8-9 win mark. It was almost a foregone conclusion that Jurrjens was going to get hammered.

Major league baseball nowadays is unprecedented in the way that virtually every hot streak that takes place through the course of a season will come to an end, often followed by a marked cold streak.