LAWRENCEVILLE — Jair Jurrjens’ velocity isn’t all the way back yet, but the right-hander is starting to look a lot more like the top-quality major league pitcher he was as recently as last year.
Jurrjens’ second start for Gwinnett after being shipped back to the minors by the Braves went even better than the first.
“Everything I wanted to do I did,” said Jurrjens after Sunday’s successful outing on a hot afternoon before a crowd of 7,208 at Coolray Field.
The native of Curacao picked up the 6-2 victory with eight solid innings, one more than he had worked in a no-decision at Toledo a week ago.
Jurrjens allowed five hits, walked one and struck out three while throwing 61 of his 95 pitches for strikes. After giving up two runs on three hits and a walk in the second inning, he faced just two batters over the minimum the next six innings. Just one of the last 17 hitters he faced reached base.
“His command was better and he got in a nice rhythm,” G-Braves manager Dave Brundage said. “He pitched off his changeup after the second inning and that was effective for him.”
Jurrjens got his fastball up to 91 mph as he struck out Greg Golson to end the sixth inning. But he topped out at 89 mph otherwise.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Brundage said. “He’s not suddenly going to be throwing 95. But he has been working hard and taken some good steps.”
Jurrjens had a good slider while holding Toledo to a run and four hits over seven innings a week ago and it was effective again. The big difference this time was his changeup.
After picking on hard stuff in the second inning, Charlotte fell victim to over-swinging the rest of the way against Jurrjens’ off-speed stuff.
“I used their aggressiveness against them,” said Jurrjens, who fanned Ozzie Martinez on three straight changeups to end the fifth inning.
Jurrjens led the National League with 12 wins and had a 1.87 ERA when he made the National League All-Star team last season. But he won just one more game and missed the final two months with a balky knee.
The 26-year-old didn’t pitch well this spring and the regular season started worse. After going 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA in four starts for the Braves, he was demoted to the minors.
Jurrjens has been putting in a lot of work with pitching coach Marty Reed, as well as strength and conditioning coach Matt Parvis, and the results are starting to show.
“I’m working hard to get to where I was,” Jurrjens said a day before Sunday’s start. “I’m not there yet, but I’m getting closer.”
Jurrjens is convinced that it is all of matter of getting stronger and correcting some issues in his mechanics.
“When I get my delivery fixed, the velocity will be there,” he said.
The G-Braves staked Jurrjens to a lead with a three-run first inning off Terry Doyle that included a two-run blast by Ernesto Mejia. The DH also had a sixth-inning double and drew a walk to start Gwinnett’s two-run eighth.
The G-Braves had just six hits, the same as Charlotte, but drew five walks and took advantage of three errors by the Knights to get payback for Saturday’s 11-2 loss.
The G-Braves had four stolen bases, including a double steal for their final run.
The victory restored Gwinnett’s lead over Charlotte in the International League South to 4 ½ games with nine games left on the homestand. Buffalo comes to Coolray Field for four games beginning Monday night, then Toledo follows for five games.
Julio Teheran (2-1) is scheduled to start the Buffalo opener against Matt Harvey (2-1) in a battle of top pitching talents. Teheran is No. 1 on the Braves’ prospect list, while Harvey is ranked No. 2 with the Mets.