Atlanta had no choice but to demote Jurrjens after his weak start

April 25, 2012 

When Jair Jurrjens joined the Atlanta Braves in 2008, he had outstanding stuff for a 22-year-old. He had a fastball that reached 95 and 96 miles an hour and stayed consistently in the 91-94 mph range.

But Monday night in Los Angeles, Jurrjens touched 91 mph one time and was more in the 87-89 mph range with his fastball.

Velocity is not everything in baseball, but when you see a pitcher have a decrease in the speed of his fastball, that is a huge red flag. Jurrjens says he’s not hurt, but something has made his stuff ordinary to the point where a guy who was almost the All-Star game starter last July is headed to Triple-A.

The last two seasons, Jurrjens has battled injuries. He had a hamstring injury two years ago this week, and then later in 2010 a right knee injury ended his season prematurely. Then last year, when he got to spring training, Jurrjens had shoulder issues. That got better, but then he had an oblique injury and started 2011 on the disabled list.

Once he returned, Jurrjens was terrific. He was clearly one of the best pitchers in the National League. But then in early August, Jurrjens was back on the DL with a right knee strain. He didn’t pitch again the rest of the season.

Has the knee injury caused him to become a different pitcher? It would be more understandable if it was still the shoulder or an elbow injury. And maybe the knee pain has caused him to put more pressure on his arm, which would explain the dip in velocity?

The Braves knew in spring training something was wrong. Jurrjens’ stuff was unimpressive. He did well in his final two starts in March, but both games were against the Astros’ split-squad teams. Jurrjens’ line was good, but nothing he threw to the plate was eye-opening.

And in his first four starts this season, Jurrjens was awful. The lack of velocity in his fastball has made his changeup, which used to be very good, hittable. There’s just no big difference in the velocity of his fastball and changeup to catch hitters off-guard. They know the velocity of both pitches is about the same, and that makes it easier to guess what’s coming.

We’re not talking about Greg Maddux here. Maddux never threw hard, but he had the ability to paint the corners like he was Picasso. He was smart as a whip and knew how to pitch. Maddux got away with things that Jurrjens couldn’t even think about doing.

Plus, everything Maddux threw moved. Jurrjens’ fastball is flat right now.

The Braves are in a pickle here. They decided to send him down to Triple-A Gwinnett, probably to work with minor league pitching coordinator Dave Wallace, who was Boston’s pitching coach when it won the World Series in 2004. Wallace is excellent, and maybe he can figure out what’s wrong with Jurrjens.

They have to believe something is wrong with him physically, and in a way, you hope that to be the case. It’s almost scarier if Jurrjens is not hurt. Then you’ve got a real problem.

But they can’t trade him right now. Jurrjens has no value. And truthfully, with all the pitching depth the Braves have, if Jurrjens had gotten back on track to start the season, he probably would have been trade bait by midseason.

He can be a free agent after next season, and it was always unlikely the Braves were going to commit to Jurrjens long-term. Plus, his agent is Scott Boras, who would’ve asked for a lot of money.

But now, instead, if Jurrjens doesn’t bounce back, he might be non-tendered after this season. And the Braves would get nothing in return.

This is truly a shame. Jurrjens was one of the best pitchers in the game a year ago, but he’s looked more like Albie Lopez or Mark Redman lately. We’ll see if he can figure things out in the minor leagues.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.

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