LAWRENCEVILLE — Making his third rehab start of the season, Jair Jurrjens earned his first Triple-A win Thursday night as the Gwinnett Braves defeated the Buffalo Bisons 10-4 at Coolray Field.
Going into the game Jurrjens, who injured his hamstring and was removed from the Braves roster on April 29, stated his pitch limit was 90. He threw 81 on Thursday night, giving up four earned runs and seven hits in six innings. He only struck out one batter while compiling a 5.31 earned run average, statistics that reflect the control issues that have hampered the right-hander so far during his rehab starts with Gwinnett.
Jurrjens stated he would be informed today whether or not his three starts for Gwinnett will be enough for “the big club” to let him return. If his work in Triple-A has been enough, Jurrjens is expected to rejoin the team either Monday or Tuesday when the Braves play host to the Nationals.
There’s been no word yet from manager Bobby Cox on when Jurrjen’s first start will be when, and if, he returns to Atlanta next week, or who will be bumped from the Braves starting rotation.
Of Jurrjens’ 81 pitches Thursday night, 53 were strikes. While this certainly doesn’t seem to reflect his control issues, several moments during the game did.
During his first three innings of work, Jurrjens looked like the pitcher that earned a place as one of the top three starters on the Braves staff at the start of the season, sitting down the first nine batters he faced with apparent ease.
“I definitely felt good,” Jurrjens said of the first three innings. “I threw more strikes. My location was good and everything was just feeling good.”
Jurrjens didn’t give up his first hit until the top of the fourth inning, when Buffalo started through their lineup for a second time.
In the fourth, a line drive to right center was immediately followed by a blast over the left-center wall from Buffalo centerfielder Jorge Padilla. The home run moved Buffalo to within five runs, 7-2.
“The first three innings I was feeling good and I just got a little easy on them,” Jurrjens said.
The hits looked like they might start piling up in the fourth for Jurrjens. After getting Mike Jacobs to hit a dribbler to first base for the second out of the inning, right fielder Fernando Martinez doubled into the right-center gap. He regained his control, and got third baseman Mike Cervenak to fly out to left-center.
The control problems resurfaced in the fifth when Jurrjens gave up a pair of singles to start the inning, which were quickly followed by an RBI sacrifice bunt to move the score to 7-3.
Jurrjens’ control slipped again after getting the second out of the inning. What appeared to be a hanging off-speed pitch led to a hard-hit ground-ball single up the middle and allowed Buffalo to score its second run of the inning. The damage could have continued for Jurrjens, but a solid line-drive catch by shortstop Diory Hernandez let him escape an inning where he gave up three hits and two earned runs.
Jurrjens didn’t attribute the hits to a lack of control, but rather to an abundance of adjustments made by the Buffalo hitters.
“They made a good adjustment the second and third time around and they got some base hits and got really good swings on the ball,” Jurrjens said. “I tip my hat off to them for make adjustments when I didn’t make the adjustments quick enough.
“It’s tough when you don’t know a lot of stuff about the hitters and you’re just trying to feel then out and see what they are showing you.”
With an off-speed pitch and fastball geared toward getting ground balls, Jurrjens often relies on his defense to get his outs. Balls bouncing along the infield grass are always a good sign that Jurrjens is in control.
“My main feeling was that I didn’t have to strike out a lot of guys,” said Jurrjens, who struck out the final batter he faced. “Just get ground balls and try to keep my pitch count down.”
Jurrjens believed his control was the best during that final inning, something he attributes to getting higher in the pitch count. His pitch count Thursday night was closer to what Jurrjens usually sees in a major league game.
“When I throw more pitches, they start moving a lot more,” Jurrjens said. “My change up and my two-seamer cut more, so I felt a lot more normal later in the game, even though I gave up a few hits late.”
While his stat line isn’t exactly what Jurrjens had in mind for his last start with Gwinnett, he still feels positive about how his rehab has gone.
“It felt good,” he said. “I just hope it was enough for the big team and the next time I start its in the bigs.”