Gwinnett Braves starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens throws during the game against the Durham Bulls on Monday. Jurrjens pitched for the G-Braves as part of his rehab for the Atlanta Braves.
LAWRENCEVILLE — The good news for the Atlanta Braves and their starter Jair Jurrjens was he pitched 22⁄3 innings with no pain in his hamstring for Triple-A affiliate Gwinnett on Monday.
The bad news was he began to overthrow after the first two innings, leading to two runs and an earlier-than-hoped-for exit.
G-Braves 7, Bulls 2
What happened: Gwinnett (29-35) couldn’t get to Durham’s ace starter, Jeremy Hellickson, but feasted on the bullpen. Hellickson limited the G-Braves to one run and two hits in six innings before being replaced. Gwinnett tied it in the seventh and broke things open with a five-run eighth. That completed a come-from-behind win after the Bulls (39-26) scored two runs in the third against Jair Jurrjens, on a rehab start for Atlanta after missing more than a month with a hamstring injury.
Worth noting: Wes Timmons ripped a shot into right field in his first at-bat, extending his hitting streak to 11 games. It’s the longest for the G-Braves this season.
On deck: The G-Braves are sending Parkview grad RHP Tim Gustafson (5-4, 5.40 ERA) to the mound against Durham’s LHP Heath Phillips (5-4, 4.02 ERA) in the finale of this four-game home-and-home series with the division-leading Bulls. It’s the second in a 12-game homestand for Gwinnett and the team is off Wednesday.
Fortunately though, the G-Braves feasted on Durham’s bullpen, rallying to pick up a big 7-2 win over the division leaders at Coolray Field. And Jurrjens got what he most wanted from the outing.
“I wish I could have accomplished the goal I had to finish four innings,” Jurrjens said. “But the main thing was no pain in the hamstring. I felt good out there. I just need to keep working now.”
Jurrjens pitched three innings of a simulated game Friday in Minneapolis before coming to Gwinnett for Monday’s start. He expects to make at least one more rehab start — probably Saturday — before returning to Atlanta’s rotation. Easing the pressure is the Braves’ lead in the NL East. Since Jurrjens’ injury, the team has become one of the hottest in the majors.
“I wish I could be there now, but it’s going to depend on the front office and the manager, see when they want me to come back,” Jurrjens said. “They just said be patient, just make sure that you’re 100 percent and we don’t want any setbacks right now. We’re in the (division) race right now and I need to make sure I’m 100 percent healthy before I come back.”
The right-hander was 14-10 with a 2.90 ERA last season for the Braves, but has suffered through several injuries since the end of spring training.
A hamstring injury has kept him out since April 30, but that came on the heels of an inflamed shoulder and a jammed thumb. His return was further delayed in May when he re-injured the hamstring during a drill in Milwaukee. Jurrjens was set to come off the disabled list at the time and missed another month.
“I’m really anxious to come back to help the team keep winning,” Jurrjens said. “But the guys have made it very easy on me to concentrate on getting healthy.
“The arm feels good, everything feels good. I hope its only one more (rehab start) to go. We’ll see how it’s going to bounce back tomorrow. The most important thing is to see if (the hamstring) is stiff or not.”
Jurrjens opened with a 92 mph strike, one of 13 in an inning that saw him throw 17 pitches. He struck out two and allowed two hits while working through steamy game-time temperatures.
“It was pretty hot,” Jurrjens said with a chuckle. “Especially being out for a month and coming back in this weather was a little difficult. And the mound was a little slippery — there was a hole I was slipping in every time I tried to deliver a pitch and I didn’t make the adjustment I needed to make to throw strikes. No excuses. The mound or the heat, you still need to throw strikes.”
In the second inning, he induced a couple of quick outs before walking consecutive batters. He struck out No. 1 hitter Jason Bartlett to end the inning, but his pitch count already had climbed to 40.
It got worse in the third, an inning he was still an out away from completing. Jurrjens started with three straight hits and after getting two outs loaded the bases on a walk to Jose Lobaton. That was it for the Curacao native in his first Class AAA start. He threw 66 pitches, 39 strikes, allowing two earned runs and five hits while walking four and striking out four.
“I just want to show everybody that I’m ready to be back in the rotation and try to help the team win,” Jurrjens said. “I think I was trying too much a little bit in the last couple innings and started to overthrow everything I had and falling behind. That caused a little bit of a problem.
“But it was the first time seeing live hitters, really being in a game after a month. I’m happy. I’m happy I had my velocity, everything is working like I want — the first two innings. But I feel good and am just going to keep working.”
Reliever Mariano Gomez came in and limited the damage by inducing an infield out to end the inning to hold Durham’s lead at 2-0.
But Jeremy Hellickson, the top pitching prospect in the Tampa Bay organization, allowed Gwinnett just one run and two hits in six innings of work to protect the lead through the sixth.
Durham reliever Joe Bateman didn't fare as well and gave up the game-tying run in the seventh. Mitch Jones belted a lead-off double to the warning track to start the rally and advanced to third on a passed ball. A bloop to shallow center by Joe Thurston scored Jones and tied the game.
Gwinnett couldn’t push the go-ahead run across despite having the bases loaded, but completed the comeback with a big five-run eighth.
Freddie Freeman led off with a hard-hit single. Barbaro Canizares was hit by a pitch, the fourth G-Brave to get plunked in the game, and Jones’ rope up the third-base line loaded the bases.
Thurston sent a double screaming alone the first-base line, scoring two and giving Gwinnett the lead. The G-Braves continued to add to the margin, leaving Durham far too large a hole to climb out of in the ninth.
Thurston finished the night 2-for-4 with three RBIs and a run scored as Gwinnett scored seven runs on 10 hits.
Durham, on the other hand, plated just two runs on 13 hits.