Jurrjens, Prado still Braves after long winter
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP)
Martin Prado was in the middle of an interview when Jair Jurrjens walked over and said jokingly, ''I can answer that for him.''
Indeed, he could.
Both players went through a most unsettling winter.
Jurrjens and Prado were mentioned frequently in trade talks after the Atlanta Braves collapsed at the end of last season, missing out on the playoffs by a single game. While there was plenty of blame to go around for the September swoon, those two wound up most prominent in the rumor mill after disappointing seasons plagued by injury and illness - Jurrjens winning just one game being an All-Star, Prado slumping to the lowest average of his big league career.
Both were prepared to move on.
Even now, still wearing Braves uniforms in the early days of spring training, they're not getting too comfortable.
''I love this team. They gave me a chance to play in the bigs,'' Prado said Sunday. ''Right now, I'm still with the Braves. That's the team I love the most. But I feel like at some point in my career, (a trade) is going to happen. I'm just preparing myself mentally. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, I'm still part of this team.''
Jurrjens has already been traded once in his career, acquired from the Detroit organization while still a minor leaguer.
Even more than Prado, the right-hander sounds as though his days with the Braves are numbered.
''It's not my first rodeo,'' Jurrjens said with a shrug. ''All those trade rumors, I'm used to it.''
Still, it's not easy to hear your name thrown into virtually every trade possibility that comes up during an offseason, supposedly dangled as the bait that might've helped land the Braves another power hitter in the middle of the order.
For a while, Prado diligently checked the Internet each day to see where he might wind up. But he realized that was no way to live.
''When I would see my name in there, I would say, `OK, I better go work out even harder than I usually do,''' said Prado, already known as one of the team's most diligent players when it comes to conditioning. ''But at a certain point in the offseason, I said, `No, I'm not gonna work like that. I'm just going to keep going what I'm doing and let them make a decision.'''
Jurrjens, who just turned 26, remains one of the Braves' most attractive commodities for any possible trade, especially if he shows early on that he's healthy. Last season, he was one of baseball's top pitchers in the first half, picked for the All-Star Game after going 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA. But an ailing right knee ruined a potentially huge year; he made only seven more starts the rest of the way, slumping to 1-3 with a 5.88 ERA.
''It was hard,'' Jurrjens said. ''You're going out there and people you usually get out are hitting home runs off you. You're like, `Ohhhh-kayyy, what is happening here?' Finally, there's a time when you have to say, `I can't go anymore.' You don't want to break your mind and start doubting yourself. I think I was at a point where I started doubting myself.''
He understands why his name came up in trade talks. He signed a $5.5 million deal this season to avoid arbitration, could make a lot more next season, then will be eligible for free agency. Considering the cost-conscious Braves have up-and-coming - and much cheaper - prospects such as Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado waiting in the wings, it's only natural to assume that Jurrjens would be part of any deal.
''There's no hard feelings,'' he said. ''If I was in the same situation, with all the quality young pitching coming up that you can get cheaper, I would do the same thing.''
The medical staff has discovered at least part of the reason Jurrjens had so much trouble with his right leg. His big toe is shorter that his second toe, which was causing him to twist his ankle when he pushed off the rubber, putting extra stress on the ankle, knee and hip. Orthotics seem to have addressed that issue, but Jurrjens is still working to break his habit.
Also, he's kicking himself for not maintaining a strict training regimen during the season, which might've kept his leg strong enough to avoid an injury even with that glitch in his motion.
''I didn't come out of spring training and keep doing the stuff I was doing to keep my leg strong,'' he said. ''I only blame myself for that one. This year, I know I need to stay on top of that. I've got to keep going the same exercises and keep it strong and maintain it.''
No one has ever accused the 28-year-old Prado of not staying in top physical condition. But sometimes, there are things you can't control in the weight room. Last season, he came down with a staph infection in his right leg, a terribly painful condition that required surgery and kept him off the field for five weeks.
Prado has already gone through a position change before the season, moving from the infield to left field, and the illness was an even more compelling reason for his offensive drop-off. He hit just .260 with 13 homers and 57 RBIs in 129 games, way down from a .307 average the previous season.
''I don't make excuses for my failure,'' Prado said. ''I know it wasn't my best year. But that's what it is. OK, I just need to go back at it and try to do better.''
If they're around for the whole season, Jurrjens and Prado could play key roles for the Braves. Like everyone in the clubhouse, they're eager to make up for last season's miserable finish.
''I'm happy I'm still here,'' Jurrjens said. ''I just want to enjoy it as long as it lasts.''
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