Jurrjens feels back on track after dominating Yankees

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Tampa — Jair Jurrjens has heard about the sophomore jinx, and the way things started this spring for him, he had wondered about it a bit.

At age 22, he led the Braves staff as a rookie last season in wins (13), innings (188 1/3) and strikeouts (139). And here he was right out of the shoot, struggling with command of his fastball in his first two spring outings.

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But Saturday’s start took care of that, when he took care of the Yankees in a 3-1 victory.

Pitching off a dominant fastball, Jurrjens went 3-2/3 innings, allowing a run only after Buddy Carlyle gave up an RBI single in relief.

With runners first and third in the fourth inning, Jurrjens struck out Xavier Nady swinging at a sinking fastball in, then he struck out Cody Ransom looking at a sinker away. At that point, Jurrjens had reached his 60-pitch limit by four, but he knew he was back on track.

“Yes, definitely,” Jurrjens said when asked if he was relieved. “Especially for the mind game. Then you know you still have it. Everybody talks about the second-year fluke. I was a little worried. But for your mind, [a start like Saturday] is medicine to clear it. You can calm down and keep working the rest of spring training.”

Jurrjens had been frustrated with his failure to command his fastball while allowing four runs in five innings in his first two outings. He showed a nice fastball Saturday, hitting 92, 93 mph on the radar gun, keeping it down, and getting four groundball outs.

Jurrjens gave up four hits, all singles, but only two hard hit balls — a single off the bat of Mark Teixeira and a hard out to center by Hideki Matsui.

“I slowed my delivery, tried to stay back and throw the pitch over the plate,” Jurrjens said. “I wasn’t trying to work on something, I just trusted it, threw it and hoped for the best result.”

He struck out three and walked none. Of his 64 pitches, 41 were strikes.

Medlen watch

Minor league reliever Kris Medlen has impressed manager Bobby Cox with his stuff this spring. On Saturday, it was his moxie. Facing Jorge Posada, behind in the count 3-0, Medlen came back to strike him out. He got Posada looking on a 3-2 change-up.

“That’s confidence,” Cox said. “He’s not even considering not throwing it.”

Medlen acknowledged he got a little excited looking over as he was warming up to see a pinch-hitting Posada in the on-deck circle.

“I was like ‘No way,’ ” said Medlen, the rosy-cheeked 23-year-old, who has yet to pitch a game above Class AA but has a shot to make the Braves’ bullpen. “It was an absolute pleasure facing him. I fell behind 3-0, but I came back. Had to get over the nerves a little bit.”

He was over them by the sixth pitch, when he locked Posada up.

“I trust my stuff,” Medlen said. “I’m just trying to be confident out there and know that I can throw stuff for strikes.”

Medlen got two more outs on only two pitches — on a Nady pop-up and Ransom line-out — to make that only eight pitches in the inning.

Soriano update

Rafael Soriano faced hitters for the first time this spring in a batting practice session at Braves camp Saturday. He’s on track to get into his first game Tuesday against the Astros.

Soriano got a late start this spring because of an upper respiratory infection the first week of camp. He’s coming off ulnar-nerve-transposition surgery.

Bombs away

Casey Kotchman hit his first home run of spring, launching a 1-1 pitch up from Chien-Ming Wang in the first inning to right field. He was the first of three Braves to homer, along with Greg Norton (second of spring) and Brandon Jones (first). Those three swings were good for the Braves’ three runs.

Former Braves first baseman Mark Teixeira took a base hit away from the first baseman he was traded for, Kotchman, with a nice play in the third inning.

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