Braves in need of top-end starting pitcher

Braves in need of top-end starting pitcher

Published Jul. 18, 2012 12:00 a.m. ET

ATLANTA — If the Braves needed a reminder that they must find another starter, they received it in the form a giant punch in the nose.

Jair Jurrjens had been seemingly rejuvenated, revitalized and refreshed since his return to Atlanta a month ago. He also was undefeated.

Even better for the Braves, Jurrjens had pitched well in those four starts, giving them hope that he would help stabilize their shaky rotation.

That could still happen, but Jurrjens jumped in Doc Brown's time-traveling DeLorean and took a trip to April on Tuesday night.

He displayed little of the determination and desire that he had demonstrated since his return from the minors.

Jurrjens was knocked around worse than he had been in any of his April starts, giving up eight hits and eight runs in 3 1/3 innings as San Francisco defeated the Braves 9-0.

And that's quite an amazing accomplishment considering Jurrjens had a 9.37 ERA before he was exiled to Triple-A Gwinnett.

"Since the first hitter, you could see I didn't have my command. I was battling to get strike one," Jurrjens said. "I made a lot of bad pitches, and they got hits on them."

His performance shows that the Braves need to explore every option when it comes to acquiring a top-flight starting pitcher. They have been getting better starts of late, but still don't have an ace.

• Tommy Hanson entered the season as the club's No. 1 starter, and he's mostly pitched well, going 10-5. But his ERA is at 4.02 and he also struggled in his last start.

• Tim Hudson just turned 37 years old and didn't make it out of the fourth inning of his last start.

• Mike Minor is in the rotation because he's shown glimpses of promise in his past six starts.

• The Braves already made a move of desperation when they signed Ben Sheets, who hadn't pitched in the majors in two years. To their credit, Sheets was stellar in his first start on Sunday, but that win is no guarantee of future results.

So they still need another starter, preferably somebody at the front of the rotation, and they continue to be linked with several pitchers.

Zack Greinke is the guy at the top of everybody's wish list because he's the only true No. 1 starter spinning on the Braves' rumor mill.

Ryan Dempster is the master of an amazing 33-inning scoreless streak and leads the NL with a 1.86 ERA. He would provide depth, as would Matt Garza and Francisco Liriano.

But none of them could take over the top spot in the rotation like Greinke.

That would bump everybody else down a turn, giving the Braves more depth with Hanson, Hudson, Jurrjens and some sort of combination of Sheets and Minor or Delgado, or even top prospect Julio Teheran, depending on who's left after the proposed trade.

Jurrjens certainly isn't the top-of-the-rotation starter he was in the past, even though he had made a remarkable recovery from his abysmal April and resulting trip to the minors.

He worked out some issues and came back to Atlanta, where he had been 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA in four starts before Tuesday's disaster.

Conditions have to be perfect for Jurrjens these days, and they certainly weren't on Tuesday.

The Braves didn't commit any errors, but the Giants took the extra base on balls hit to the outfield. They took advantage of Jurrjens missing the bag while covering first and again when Chipper Jones couldn't field Barry Zito's bouncer to third in what became a six-run fourth inning. Two of his three walks ended up scoring.

One loss doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of a baseball season, especially when the Braves had just won seven consecutive games.

But it continues to show that they don't have a shutdown starter, that their deck is missing an ace.

The Braves have 37 quality starts, a total that puts them ahead of only Colorado in the National League, and manager Fredi Gonzalez has said many times that everything begins with the starting pitchers.

Which means the Braves need another one if they want to stay in the pennant chase.