Jurrjens heads to Triple-A to rediscover form

The Atlanta Braves did the right thing sending pitcher Jair Jurrjens to the minors.

His mind isn’t in the right place, his velocity is waning and his confidence has deserted him. He needs time to fix whatever’s wrong, because the Jurrjens we’ve seen this year is not the Jurrjens we’ve seen in the past.

It’s incredible to think how far he has fallen since the first half of 2011, when Jurrjens was as close to unbeatable than any Braves pitcher. Ever.

Ten months later, Jurrjens is making a flight across the country and a trip to Triple-A Gwinnett. It’s a move warranted by his dismal start.

Jurrjens is 0-2 and couldn’t hold big leads in his other two starts, games the Braves won. He hasn’t recorded an out past the fifth inning this season, which isn’t surprising considering his 9.37 ERA.

Opponents are hitting .411 against him after he gave up nine hits and five runs in a 7-2 loss to the Dodgers on Monday, a performance that lasted only 50 pitches and prompted his immediate demotion.

If you couldn’t have guessed by his ERA, his line this season is downright ugly: 30 hits, 17 runs, 10 walks and only eight strikeouts in 16-1/3 innings.

No wonder JJ is headed to AAA.

Jurrjens has lost more than his grip on the baseball. It seems he’s lost grip with the mental aspect of his game. His velocity is down from early in his career, but he insists that isn’t a problem.

He also says he’s healthy, but I’ve got to wonder if he’s still favoring or protecting the balky right knee that has caused him to miss the end of the past two seasons. Jurrjens is pitching this season with a brace and orthodontics to help stabilize the knee, which was operated on in 2010 and twice sent him to the disabled list last year.

If it’s not the speed of his pitches or his knee, then something has certainly precipitated his decline from a pitcher who was 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA at the 2011 All-Star break to one who will be facing minor-league hitters in his next start.

Since retiring five of the six American League all-stars he faced on July 13, Jurrjens is 1-5 with a 6.87 ERA in 11 starts.

He learned about the decision after talking to reporters, so he wasn’t able to comment specifically on the move.

“I’m not a quitter,” Jurrjens said after the game. “I’m just going to keep going out there to do my best. When I go out there, I try to do my best. That’s the only thing I can do. . . . Right now, I’m not that same guy I used to be. I’m just going to keep fighting.”

The team’s original plan was to send starting pitcher Randall Delgado to Gwinnett when Tim Hudson was activated from the disabled list, but that likely will now change.

Hudson is expected to take Jurrjens’ spot in the rotation and probably will start against the Pirates either Sunday or Monday.

If the Braves need more help, they could find a replacement at Gwinnett, where Yohan Flande, who almost made the bullpen out of spring training, hasn’t allowed a run in four games, a span that includes three starts and 15-2/3 innings. Julio Teheran is 2-0 with a 2.19 ERA in his three starts.

Jurrjens has too strong of a track record — he was 50-33 in his career before this season — for the Braves to give up on him.

They will be patient and work with him and spend time working out his issues, whether they are physical or mental.

“I’m going through a bad stretch,” Jurrjens said. “I’m going to keep my head up and keep fighting and bounce back.”

I think Jurrjens will be back in Atlanta sometime this spring or summer. He’s too smart, talented and determined to let his career end this way.