Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Gwinnett Braves starting pitcher Todd Redmond (34) delivers a pitch to a batter from the Charlotte Knights at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville on Saturday.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Jair Jurrjens made one start at Coolray Field last season and three the previous year. But those were rehab outings with nothing to prove except that he had fully recovered from nagging injuries.
There is a lot more on the line now.
Just a season after pitching for the National League in the All-Star Game, Jurrjens is trying to prove he can still be a successful major league starting pitcher.
His first start for Gwinnett after being sent down from Atlanta went well at Toledo. He will get another chance to show that he is on the road back to the Braves when he faces Charlotte today in the finale of a two-game series.
"I'm working hard to get to where I was," Jurrjens said. "I'm not there yet, but I'm getting closer."
The G-Braves need a well-pitched game.
Charlotte cut first-place Gwinnett's lead in the South Division of the International League to 3 -1/2 games with 11-2 rout on Saturday night before a crowd of 6,931.
Dan Johnson hit a two-run homer in the first inning off G-Braves starter Todd Redmond (2-3) and the Knights scored six runs against the Gwinnett bullpen in the seventh inning.
Charlotte left-hander Charlie Leesman (2-3) held the G-Braves to four hits over six innings to get the victory.
Jurrjens led the National League with 12 wins and had a 1.87 ERA at the All-Star break last season. But he won just one more game and missed the final two months with a balky knee.
Jurrjens didn't pitch well this spring and the regular season started worse. After going 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA in four starts, the 26-year-old native of Curacao was demoted to the minors.
The Braves needed a spot in the rotation for Tim Hudson, who was coming off the disabled list. But in truth, Jurrjens just hadn't pitched well enough to merit more starts.
A loss in velocity was an issue. So was a lack of movement on his pitches. Jurrjens needed to build his stuff, as well as his body and confidence, back up.
"When I get my delivery fixed, the velocity will be there," Jurrjens said.
Jurrjens' outing last Sunday in Toledo was positive. He went seven innings in the no-decision, allowing four hits and a run while striking out four and walking three. Of his 93 pitchers, 54 were strikes.
"I was happy with my slider," Jurrjens said. "I still need to make more improvement with my other pitches."
Jurrjens is getting six days off between starts because of a pair of rainouts on the G-Braves' 4-2 road trip. In addition, he had five days between his last start for the Braves in Los Angeles and his first with Gwinnett.
But sessions with pitching coach Marty Reed, and strength and conditioning coach Matt Parvis may be as significant as Jurrjens' time on the mound.
"He's putting in a lot of work," G-Braves manager Dave Brundage said. "Once everything starts coming together, he'll get his confidence back and the results will be there for everyone to see."