Jurrjens' troubles in fifth doom Braves
Righty allows four runs in fateful frame in loss to Dodgers
ATLANTA -- As he's positioned himself to be one of the game's top young pitchers, Jair Jurrjens has often proven to be wise beyond his years. But even with his advanced mindset, the Braves' young hurler is still subject to those inevitable physical mistakes that often prove disastrous.
Having watched Matt Kemp chase fastballs out of the zone during his first two at-bats at Turner Field on Sunday night, Jurrjens felt confident he could sneak yet another fastball out of the Dodgers center fielder's reach.
But the result of this calculated thought process put center fielder Nate McLouth in position to be the one who was unable to reach the 0-2 fastball that Kemp drilled high over the center field wall for the three-run fifth-inning homer that propelled the Dodgers to their 9-1 win over the Braves.
"That was the game," Jurrjens said. "One mistake cost us the game and we never came back. You can get out of all the jams, and then one pitch can turn the game your way or the other team's way."
While recording just four hits against Chad Billingsley and four Dodgers relievers, the Braves didn't provide the margin needed to negate this one physical error that ended a scoreless battle and took advantage of the consecutive two-out singles that Jurrjens (9-8) surrendered after retiring the first two batters he faced during what evolved into a four-run fifth inning.
"His first couple of at-bats, [Kemp] was kind of swinging at pitches off the plate," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "My thought process when we got him 0-2 was to get the fastball up and out and see if he swings through it. It's just one of those things where he got it over the plate more than he wanted to."
After Manny Ramirez and James Loney prolonged the fifth inning with consecutive two-out singles, Braves manager Bobby Cox felt confident that Jurrjens would be able to escape yet another jam. The 23-year-old right-hander had ended the third inning by getting Ramirez to look at a called third strike with runners at first and second base. Jurrjens also ended a laborsome 24-pitch fourth inning by throwing a 94-mph heater by Billingsley with the bases loaded. But Kemp, who had ended an eight-pitch, second-inning at-bat by looking at 91-mph two-seam fastball, didn't let the Braves hurler produce a third consecutive escape act.
"He got some big strikeouts and he almost had another one," Cox said. "I thought he would, really."
With Billingsley (11-6) allowing just two hits over five scoreless innings before exiting because of a cramp in his right hamstring, the Dodgers put themselves in position to end what started as a trying road trip by handing the Braves a second successive series defeat.
"Going 3-4 on a trip is not good," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "But when you lose the first three, it's pretty good, especially with who we had to beat tonight. The kid pitched well against us."
Jurrjens, who was 3-0 with a 1.75 ERA in his previous four starts, was charged with four earned runs and 10 hits in five innings. He needed 52 pitches to complete the first three innings and then wiggled out of trouble when he began his 24-pitch fourth inning by surrendering consecutive singles to Loney and Kemp.
"I wasn't throwing my slider for strikes, so I just had two pitches to throw," Jurrjens said. "They make it really difficult on you. I threw some close pitches and it got my pitch count up."
The Braves (53-52), who have won just two of their past six games, were limited to three hits during Friday night's loss and four hits during the series finale. They had hit .292 in their 27 games leading up to this three-game series, which they played without the injured Yunel Escobar, whose bruised right wrist may keep him sidelined for at least one more game.
"They're better than a really good team," McCann said of the Dodgers, who improved their Major League-best record to 65-40. "Their lineup one to eight is probably the best you're going to find."
Billingsley, who had gone 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA in his previous seven starts, escaped early trouble when he followed Martin Prado's first-inning double with consecutive strikeouts of Chipper Jones and McCann.
"He was really good," McCann said of his NL All-Star teammate. "He was throwing everything for strikes. It didn't matter what count it was, he was throwing the pitch he wanted. He's got all the pitches you want. He's really tough to hit."
Jurrjens was just one pitch away from drawing similar praise.
"I battled and kept us in the game," Jurrjens said. "I'm not happy, but I kept the game close. We just didn't have the luck to come back."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.