LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Jair Jurrjens has spent this month attempting to convince reporters that he has been healthy and unfazed by his less-than-impressive starts in Grapefruit League action. After dominating a split-squad Astros club at Champion Stadium on Sunday, the Braves right-hander was able to deliver this message in a much more relaxed and confident manner.
"I've been working a lot on my mental approach," Jurrjens said. "I just wanted to go out there and go all out. I think I've been holding back and trying to save the knee. But if something is going to happen, it's going to happen. I would prefer to go out, be aggressive, throw strikes and get people out."
Jurrjens seemed to gain confidence as he limited the Astros to three hits and one run in six solid innings. He struck out five of the final 12 batters he faced and recorded one more hit (two) than he allowed through the first five innings. The 26-year-old right-hander, who had posted a 10.13 ERA in his first four exhibition starts, held Houston scoreless before allowing a Travis Buck double and Matt Downs' RBI single with two outs in the sixth.
"He commanded his fastball and his breaking pitches," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He threw some changeups that flat-out disappeared in the strike zone. He did a nice job."
When Jurrjens allowed the Tigers eight runs (seven earned) in five innings last week, he admitted that he was still worrying about his right knee, which sidelined him down the stretch both of the past two years. He has not felt any discomfort this year and might have more reason to believe he does not have to worry about pushing off the mound or running the bases, like he did after recording singles in the fourth and sixth innings on Sunday.
Jurrjens' fastball velocity rested between 89-91 mph and he touched 93.
"He did pretty much all he wanted to do with his pitches, and the good thing was his velocity stayed up there," Gonzalez said. "I hope this gets him over the edge."
Gonzalez said he will wait a few more days before announcing his Opening Day starter. The most likely candidates are Jurrjens, who will start against another split-squad Astros team again on Friday, or Tommy Hanson, who is scheduled to complete five innings against a group of Astros Minor Leaguers on Monday.