• Exclusives

    The rise and fall of Jair Jurrjens

    By Tara Rowe

    After an excruciating loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Braves announced late Tuesday night that Jair Jurrjens had been optioned to the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate in Gwinnett.

    Jurrjens pitched 3 innings, giving up 9 hits, 1 walk and 5 earned runs against the Dodgers who held the best record in the National League as of Wednesday.

    When healthy, Jurrjens has put up extraordinary numbers over the past several seasons; numbers that compare favorably to some of the best arms in the National League. And he has done so while flying under the radar.

    In 2008, Jurrjens’ turned in an excellent rookie year performance with 13 wins and a 3.68 ERA. He finished 3rd in National League Rookie of the Year voting behind winner Geovany Soto and runner-up Joey Votto.

    His success carried over to his sophomore season, even competing for the NL Cy Young award in ’09. He won 14 games that year while posting the 3rd-best ERA in the league (2.60).

    After a 2010 season marred by injuries, Jurrjens was back on track in 2011. He earned his first all-star selection and was very nearly chosen to start the game for the Senior Circuit. Jurrjens pitched in relief of Roy Halladay that evening and logged 1.2 innings of scoreless baseball.

    At the All-Star Break last season, Jurrjens was 12-3 with an MLB-best 1.87 ERA. But then… the injury bug bit once again. He began experiencing severe discomfort in his right knee in mid-July and mustered only 1 win after the break with an unsightly 5.88 ERA.

    Unfortunately, his late-season ’11 struggles followed him into the young 2012 season.

    While Jurrjens insists that his knee is healthy, he has not appeared comfortable pitching with a knee brace and orthotics. These issues will certainly be addressed at Gwinnett.

    Jurrjens isn’t the only All-Star hurler, though, off to a nightmarish start this season. There may be parallels to be drawn between the struggles of Jurrjens and San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum. Lincecum, a power pitcher with phenomenal numbers since his debut, has struggled mightily in the early going. His ERA stands at 8.20 with a 1-3 record thus far. Will Lincecum turn his season around? I wouldn’t bet against the 2-time Cy Young winner.

    Jurrjens has all of tools needed to rebound as well. However, the Braves had minor league “options” remaining with Jair and determined they could not afford to let him work through his issues in Atlanta. The Giants, conversely, do not have the option of demoting their young ace.

    When on his game, Jair Jurrjens has the potential to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League. Many thought before the 2012 season began that Jurrjens’ success coupled with that of Tommy Hanson would lead the way for Atlanta. The Braves hoped “JJ” would return to form, which in contrast to his inability to perform late last year, would have been the equivalent of adding a big free agent starter.

    The team has not lost faith in their All-Star right-hander, and they remain hopeful that Jurrjens’ struggles and his stay in Gwinnett will both be temporary.

    The Braves announced Wednesday morning that Cory Gearrin, who has not allowed a run at Triple-A Gwinnett this season, would take Jurrjens’ place on the 25-man roster. Veteran righty Tim Hudson is expected to make his ’12 debut soon and will replace Jair in the Braves’ rotation.

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