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Jurrjens stellar in defeating Giants ace

Jurrjens stellar in defeating Giants ace

ATLANTA -- While Tim Lincecum was serving as the National League's starting pitcher during last week's All-Star Game, Jair Jurrjens found himself sitting idle and appreciating a successful first half that went both unnoticed and unrewarded.

But when given the opportunity to match his skills against Lincecum at Turner Field on Wednesday night, Jurrjens provided further indication why many of his teammates believe he has the potential to be every bit as successful as the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner.

With Jurrjens providing one of his finest efforts of the season and Yunel Escobar drilling a three-run, third-inning homer, the Braves finally solved Lincecum and more importantly prolonged their winning ways with a 4-2 win over the Giants, who will be attempting to stave off a four-game sweep during Thursday afternoon's series finale.

"J.J. pitched one of the best games he's pitched since he's been in the big leagues," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "He's had so many, but this one is going to stick out much more than the others. He pitched to both sides of the plate and commanded the strike zone with all three of his pitches and kept them off balance all night long."

While allowing just one run and three hits in 7 2/3 innings, Jurrjens outdueled Lincecum, who was charged with four earned runs and seven hits in five innings -- his shortest outing since Opening Day. The Giants ace had surrendered just three runs in the previous 32 2/3 innings that he'd completed against the Braves.

"Every time I face an ace, I put a little more pressure on myself," said Jurrjens after winning a third consecutive start for the first time this year. "You know if they score a couple of runs, that might be the game. I was trying to just go face-to-face with him, and when the team gave me a couple of runs, I was working as hard as possible to keep it like that."

McCann provided a two-out RBI single in the first inning and Escobar delivered the crushing blow when he drilled Lincecum's 1-1 fastball an estimated 418 feet over the center-field wall with two outs in the third inning. This three-run shot was the first homer Lincecum has surrendered against a right-handed hitter this year.

"Only big men go there," Jurrjens said. "If you hit it to straight center field, that means you really got into it. That's not easy, especially in this stadium, to go out to deep center field."

Having already seen the Phillies end their 10-game winning streak during the afternoon hours, the Braves didn't know if they would have the benefit of yet another miraculous development. But they created one while taking advantage of the few mistakes committed by Lincecum, who had been 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his previous five career starts against them.

"You have all the confidence in the world when [Lincecum] takes the mound," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "But we faced a good pitcher today, too. He's one of the better pitchers in the league. He had great command of his fastball and changeup."

While moving to within 5 1/2 games of the front-running Phillies in the NL East race, the Braves allowed Jurrjens to carry the load. On the way to registering a season-high nine strikeouts, the 23-year-old right-hander surrendered a second-inning leadoff single and then retired 17 straight batters before Bengie Molina ended his dominant run with a two-out, seventh-inning single.

"His command really got good after the first couple of innings," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "They hit a couple balls hard off him the first two innings and that was it. He pitched a great game."

Jurrjens, who is 3-1 with a 1.93 ERA in his past four starts, exited to a rousing ovation with runners at the corners and two outs in the eighth inning. The Giants scored their lone run against him when Randy Winn greeted Mike Gonzalez with a weak grounder toward third that resulted in a two-out RBI single.

With his effort, Jurrjens lowered his ERA to 2.67, which ranks fifth in the NL, just behind the 2.45 mark compiled by Lincecum, who had been 4-0 with a 1.16 ERA in his previous five starts.

"Our pitcher is right up there with [Lincecum]," McCann said. "So you knew it was going to be a pitchers' duel from the start. Both teams were trying to get runs early."

Jurrjens, who was provided limited run support during the first three months of the season, gained an early lead when Chipper Jones recorded a two-out single, stole second base and scored on McCann's RBI single.

Escobar, who has hit .500 with 12 RBIs since the All-Star break, then made sure Jurrjens wouldn't be dealt yet another hard-luck loss.

"It's always gratifying when he's throwing that good to give him a little breathing room," Escobar said, with Braves bench coach Chino Cadahia serving as an interpreter.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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