The Braves sailed through spring training without injury, until right-hander Jair Jurrjens felt soreness in his right side after throwing a first-inning groundout pitch to former teammate Yunel Escobar when the Braves and Blue Jays played on March 24.
Remembering what happened last spring, when he kept soreness to himself -- not telling trainers, pitching coach Roger McDowell or manager Bobby Cox -- then suffered the consequences with serial injuries all season, he immediately told McDowell and manager Fredi Gonzalez, who took him out of the game as a precaution. It just wasn't worth the risk.
At the time, Jurrjens thought it was a cramp from lack of hydration; the reality is a little uncertain. While the injury isn't an oblique, strictly speaking, it is in that general area, so the Braves aren't pushing him. He waited until Sunday to test it playing catch.
Jurrjens came to camp not only pain-free after a succession of nagging injuries last season (and offseason arthroscopic surgery to repair a tear in his right meniscus) but also practically svelte, dropping 14 pounds over the winter, from 212 to 198. Jurrjens expects his better-conditioned self to put less strain on is knees and legs.
Gonzalez has set the sequence of his top four starters to maximize the effect of their different styles:
Right-hander Derek Lowe gets his third consecutive Opening Day assignment; he'll start against the Nationals in Washington. Lowe has picked up where his 5-0 September left off. Back then, he chucked his by-feel approach and consulted pitching coach Roger McDowell, coming up with customized game plans. This spring, he worked his breaking stuff in slowly, building up stamina with fastballs only. He has been in command most of the spring.
Right-hander Tommy Hanson has been throwing all four pitches well; thanks to offseason strengthening of his lower back, he is also throwing all of them aggressively. But the key has been his fastball command.
Right-hander Tim Hudson's turn in the rotation sets up for him to start the Braves' home opener April 8. His stellar sinker, which kept the Braves in the pennant chase a year ago, contrasts with Hanson's and Jurrjens' hard stuff.
Jurrjens was slotted fourth, but Gonzalez and general manager Frank Wren will want to see him pitch live, not in a simulated game. The early schedule allows for some flexibility: they have a scheduled off day after the opener, so Lowe can come back on regular rest.
Or rookie right-hander Brandon Beachy, who won the fifth starting job, might slide into Jurrjens' spot, and the rest of the rotation can follow.
If Jurrjens has to go on the disabled list, rookie left-hander Mike Minor could make one start; he lost out to Beachy for the fifth starter spot and has been assigned to Triple-A Gwinnett. Jurrjens' DL stint would be backdated to March 25, and he would be eligible to be activated for the second game of the Braves' home-opening series, April 9 versus the Phillies.
Jurrjens is scheduled to throw a bullpen session in Washington before the opener. The Braves will wait to see how that turns out before deciding whether to disable him.
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