The winding, often intersecting paths of two former Braves teammates crossed again Tuesday on a minor league mound in Lawrenceville.
Like Vegas headliners working a Biloxi resort, Brandon Beachy and Jair Jurrjens found themselves together again as opposing starters in a Triple-A game between the Gwinnett Braves and Norfolk Tides. Their presence was a somewhat bigger attraction than the regularly scheduled Stefan Gartrell poster giveaway promotion at Coolray Field.
Back on his rehab regimen after a slight set-back, Beachy did not hang up any numbers that dazzled Tuesday.
But the real measure of the outing will come today as he tests his surgically repaired right elbow for any signs of the soreness that has delayed his comeback to the big leagues. He was on schedule to return to the Braves in mid-June from Tommy John surgery, until he suffered some elbow inflammation after a three-inning outing in Gwinnett.
Tuesday was his first time back on the mound since. In that game, Norfolk survived a late rally by Gwinnett, winning 4-3 despite an eighth-inning home run by Ernesto Mejia, his 22nd of the season. Jurrjens got the victory, allowing one earned run.
Beachy’s line vs. the Tides: Three innings pitched, three hits, two runs (both earned), one walk, one strikeout. He threw 45 pitches, 29 for strikes.
His reaction: “I wanted to go out there, try to throw some strikes, get comfortable out there on the mound again. And I felt I did that after the first batter. I’m pretty happy. I’m feeling good and healthy.”
Jurrjens — remember him, the Braves All Star from 2011 who was cast off to free agency just one season later? — is now working the border between Triple-A and the Majors. He has appeared in two games for the Baltimore Orioles (a 4.91 ERA in 7 1/3 innings) this season and 16 games for the Tides (4.18 ERA in 94 2/3 innings).
He left the game Tuesday night with one out in the seventh, a 3-1 lead, and the sincere applause of 3,156 fans who remembered his better days. He was 50-36 in five seasons with the Braves.
Strange how often Beachy and Jurrjens have been mentioned in the same breath. After a rapid rise as an undrafted free agent out of Indiana Wesleyan, Beachy’s Major League debut came in September 2010. He was rushed into the breach, taking Jurrjens’ (sore knee) place in the rotation.
Beachy’s 2012 was going swimmingly — he had a 2.00 ERA and opponents were hitting .171 against him after 13 starts — until the elbow went. It was Jurrjens who then took Beachy’s next scheduled start.
The two got to reminisce and joke around a little bit Monday while working out at Coolray. Tuesday they were more serious around each other, both getting down to the work of re-starting careers.
Beachy, who went into the game with a three-inning pitch limit, began inauspiciously with a four-pitch walk to Norfolk lead-off hitter Xavier Avery.
“The first batter, I was a little amped up,” he said. “You can’t really simulate that (emotion) in the bullpen, you got to be out there on the mound and get used to that.
“After the first batter, I gave up a couple doubles, but both of those were pitches I was happy with. They were in decent spots and did pretty much what I wanted them to do.”
He was living on a diet heavy on fastballs, and while there was no radar gun reading during the game, Beachy said he felt OK with his velocity.
Of his location, he said, “Once I got the ball down in the zone, it was better. That still needs to improve — a lot.” After the shaky first inning, he retired six of the last seven batters he faced.
Beachy did not even try to guess how many more rehab appearances he might require before the Braves would have to shoehorn him back into the Major League roster. He said only, “I don’t know, man. I’m going to wake up tomorrow and see how it feels and they’ll tell me what’s next after that.”
He did display a wide smile when asked how Tuesday’s appearance compared to the previous rehab outing.
“Night and day difference to me in what I’m feeling as far as the way the ball is coming out and being able to finish pitches,” he said.