Fingers crossed as Jurrjens prepares for his return
Around this time last year, there was debate about whether Jair Jurrjens should be named the National League’s starting pitcher at the All-Star Game. Now, there is debate about whether he will last five innings when he makes his return to the Major League scene with tonight’s start against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Less than a year after entering the All-Star break with a Major League-best 1.87 ERA, Jurrjens enters tonight’s start shadowed by some of the same doubts that surrounded Kyle Davies as he prepared to make his big league debut against the reigning world champion Red Sox on May 21, 2005. The good news is Davies allowed four hits over five scoreless innings that night. The bad news is Jurrjens’ only scoreless effort this year came while he was pitching for Triple-A Gwinnett against the Rochester Red Wings.
Folks around the Braves organization were raving about the velocity and command Jurrjens showed with his fastball after tossing eight scoreless innings against the Red Wings on May 27. Then five days later, he made the mistake of trying to pitch with the flu. The 12 hits and 10 runs (six earned) he allowed in 4 2/3 innings that day against Buffalo once again created doubts about whether he would return to the Majors.
To his credit, Jurrjens pitched effectively during his next two outings and now finds himself given the opportunity to fill the rotation spot vacated by Brandon Beachy, who underwent successful Tommy John surgery on Thursday. When you lose a pitcher who was leading the Majors in ERA, it’s certainly nice to replace him with a former All-Star.
That is unless he has posted a 6.87 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .335 in the 11 starts he gained that All-Star selection.
With that being said Jurrjens has made strides since being demoted after posting a 9.37 ERA in his first four starts with Atlanta this year. Reports indicate his velocity is up a little bit, but still not where it was before his right knee became a problem at the end of the 2010 season. More importantly, it seems he has regained a better understanding of what he now has in his arsenal.
Here is an excerpt from the blog I wrote the day after Jurrjens was sent to Gwinnett:
Average velocity of Jurrjens’ four-seam fastball according to FanGraphs.com’s PITCH f/x data:
Even when Jurrjens found success in his first 16 starts last year, his average velocity of his four-seamer was just 89.4 mph. That figure dropped to 88.6 mph in the seven starts he made after the All-Star break. And as the chart above shows, he’s been around that same mark this year.
If Jurrjens’ fastball once again sits around 90-91 mph tonight, the Braves will have reason to be encouraged because history shows he can be successful with that kind of velocity. He was in this neighborhood during his last couple starts with Gwinnett.
But until he takes the mound tonight and shows the progress he has made over the past two months, the Braves have no other choice but to cross their fingers and hope for this former All-Star will prove to be a capable replacement for Beachy.