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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.