Demotion of Jair Jurrjens Leaves a Big Hole for the Atlanta Braves

Make no mistake, Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens wasn’t off to a great start in 2012.  In fact, he hadn’t really pitched all that well since the All-Star break in 2011.  But still, his demotion to AAA Gwinnett leaves a big hole in the Braves’ starting rotation that wont be easily filled by manager Fredi Gonzalez.

Jurrjens – who was selected to his first All-Star team in 2011 – had a 12-3 record, with a 1.87 ERA in the first half of the 2011 season, and and it looked like he was on his way to becoming the Braves’ ace starter. But the second half of the season wasn’t as kind to him, as his numbers took a steep decline and injuries took their toll on the Braves right-hander.

During the 2012 spring training, there was hope that the off-season had given time for Jurrjens’ surgically repaired right knee to heal, and that he would return to his early 2011 form.  However, after going 2-2 with a 5.81 ERA and three home runs allowed this spring, there began to be concern for Jurrjens stuff.  Then in four 2012 regular season starts, Jurrjens was 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA.  This wasn’t the Jair Jurrjens that the Braves needed to see early on.

Jurrjens has a four-seam and a two-seam fastball, both of which he normally throws at 91-92 MPH.  This spring, and through the beginning of the 2012 season his fastball had dipped into the 87-88 range. Jurrjens pairs his fastballs with a changeup in the low 80s and a slider.  Without the normal velocity on his fastball, all of his pitches become more hittable, as hitters don’t have to gear up for a pitch in the 90s.

The Braves, who seemed to be rich in starting pitching last season, were counting on Jurrjens to be their number two starter this year, and with the departure of veteran Derek Lowe, they needed to get a lot of innings from him to help keep what was one of last years most overworked bullpens rested.  Should Jurrjens not be able to find his way back to Atlanta’s rotation, the options for Fredi Gonzalez are limited.

The Braves are hoping that Jurrjens can work out whatever physical or mechanical issues he is having while assigned to the AAA team, but should that not happen, the Braves’ starting rotation would take on a completely different look.  Because after you get past Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor, the situation becomes cloudy.

First you have Tim Hudson, who is recovering from back surgery, and isn’t even expected to be able to pitch until early May.  When Hudson – who has also undergone Tommy John surgery – does return, the number of innings he’ll be able to give Atlanta are uncertain.  Then the fifth spot in the rotation could possibly be filled by Randall Delgado, Kris Medlen, or even veteran Livan Hernandez, who the Braves picked up just before the beginning of the season.  All three have serious questions as to the ability to go deep into games, and give quality starts.

So it would appear early in this 2012 campaign that a position that was considered to be one of the Braves’ strengths, has now become somewhat of a question, or even a liability.  Atlanta will need for someone to step up and fill Jurrjens’ shoes for them to be a serious contender this season.

 

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  • JimK

    What utter nonsense. Hudson will be back next week. Randall Delgado is an acceptable #5 for now, but he’s backed up at AAA Gwinnett by Julio Teheran, only the top pitching prospect in the minors and judging by his recent work, ready now. Also in line Johan Flande, who has a 0.00 ERA in AAA. The Braves have great pitching depth, as all the reporters following the team closely know.

    This must be a bonehead website. I’m deleting the site which linked to it — FoxSports.com — from my toolbar and sticking with mlb, espn, ajc, talking chop and first inning.

    • http://www.gasportscraze.com Michael Collins

      Thanks for reading, and for expressing so vividly your opinion. But I would like to point out a few things. First, yes…Hudson is “scheduled” to be back next week, which (as I said in the column) is the beginning of may, give or take. But both his age and his health are going to limit the number of innings he’s able to go. He’s not the sure thing that he once was.

      Second, I would agree with you that Teheran and Flande are fine pitching prospects, but they are just that…prospects. Had either of them truly been ready to go at the big league level, they would have already made the club coming out of spring training. In any case, neither of them are primed to absolutely replace the man the Braves were counting on as their number 2 starter. Jurrjens was being looked at as a 180-200 inning, 15-20 win guy. I don’t know that either of the prospects you mentioned, or any of the pitchers I mentioned in the article are going to be able to put up those kind of numbers. Would it be nice if they could? Absolutely. But it’s not the way we wanted to kick things off. That’s all I was saying.

      Thanks again!

  • Alan

    Most teams would feel lucky to have this many options for the fifth starter role. If you believe that fifth starters are going to be consistent innings eaters throughout the season, I would say that is a little irrational. Instead we have a slew of young options that are capable of giving a quality 5-6 innings each fifth day. Add that to what appears to be the potential for huge progressions from Beachy and Minor along with the veteran craftiness of Hanson and Hudson. All things considered, I think this is one of the deepest pitching staffs in the NL.

    Furthermore, I think the bullpen innings issue will be a non-starter this season. Although each of the big three (O’Ventbral) had 70+ IP last season, this season we have the luxury of using Medlen to spread out those high stress innings. Consider the possibility of a Moylan return, or perhaps a mid season move (Wren has been known to bring in bullpen help late). I would put this pitching staff up against any–which the Braves will need considering the relative strength of the Nationals and Phillies arms.

  • Blausy Tiberius

    What utter nonsense. Bemoaning that Huddy won’t be ready until “early May” on a post published on April 25th.

    And that ain’t the half of it. Stick to football, Hoss.

  • http://yardbarker.com Jim KLOSCAK

    What a stupid article, about the Braves pitching. Tim Hudson is back next week against the Pirates. Why did you bring up his tommy john surgery, that was two years ago. Last year he won 16 games and was lights out.Jurrjens has been horrible, so Delgado can take his spot.Huddy has no health issues now, his back is good and he is ready to go!!Minor and Beachy have been great as well as Hanson….like that one guy said stick to covering football….or what ever you do!!

  • Chief Locked Heart

    The Braves pitching situation is not all that different, Livan and Chad Durbin aside, than we thought it’d be coming into the season. They were never going to have 8 healthy guys throwing like #3 or better pitchers all at the same time, but this is why their pitching depth was and is a strength.

    Jair being either hurt or ineffective (yes, even this ineffective) had to be right up there with Hanson’s shoulder as the most predictable reason we’d need to make use of that depth. I’ve been saying for years that relying on an aging Tim Hudson was another mark on the tally of the FO’s loyalty clouding their judgement, but Hudson was always inked in as the #2 guy and JJ was somewhere in the mix with the rest, with his slot written in pencil.

    • c woods

      Unfortunately the Braves do NOT have depth or strength in either their starters or bull pen…wake up you guys. I agree with the article!