KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) - Jair Jurrjens wants to start for the Braves on opening day, and he made a strong case for the job Sunday.
Jurrjens allowed a run and three hits over six innings in his best start of spring training, leading Atlanta to an 11-1 victory over a Houston Astros split squad Sunday.
Jurrjens struck out seven and also had two hits and scored a run.
It's been a tough spring training for Jurjjens, who lowered his ERA from 10.13 to 7.45. Jurrjens said he was relieved to have a solid outing and is convinced he can still be the Braves' No. 1 starter.
An All-Star last season, Jurrjens went 12-3 in the first half but struggled after the break and missed all of the Braves' September collapse with a knee injury. He finished the season 13-6 with a 2.96 ERA.
``I feel better now,' Jurrjens said. ``I finally got to be more aggressive and I felt more mentally prepared. I didn't want to throw hard, but I worked on my mental approach and it felt right.'
Jurrjens says he's ready to step up until Tim Hudson returns in May after back surgery on Nov. 30.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez wasn't making any promises, but if the choice for opening day comes down to Jurrjens and someone else, he'd be happy to go with Jurrjens if he shows the same command he had against the Astros.
``He has his fastball and his breaking pitch working and his changeup is just disappearing,' Gonzalez said. ``His command was really good and he seemed like he could do anything he wanted to do.'
Jurrjens had been hit hard in each of his four previous starts.
``I feel more relaxed now,' Jurrjens said. ``I have a good mindset and it's really important to be ready for the season. It would be an honor to start opening day.'
Gonzalez said he wasn't concerned about Jurrjens' earlier outings.
``I hope this one gets him over the edge,' Gonzalez said. ``I am not surprised.'
Freddie Freeman hit two of the Braves four homers. Dan Uggla hit his sixth of the spring and Brian McCann added another for the Braves.
Zach Duke started for the Astros and took a beating, allowing 10 runs in 3 1-3 innings. He walked two and allowed three homers. Duke, a 2009 All-Star for the Pittsburgh Pirates, signed a minor league deal with Houston in January. Duke, who has a spring ERA of 11.30, said he is still hoping he can hold onto a spot in the Astros' rotation.
``I just had some balls hit right down the lines, a windblown homer to center field,' Duke said. ``Their pitcher (Jurrjens) hit one with one hand. I'm just going to keep on doing my work. I'll keep competing.'
Martin Prado and Freeman also had two hits for the Braves. Travis Buck had a double for the Astros.
NOTES: Monday is the only off day for the Braves all spring. RHP Tommy Hanson will pitch in a minor league game. . RHP Brandon Beachy will pitch against the Mets on Tuesday. . 3B Chipper Jones is expected to undergo knee surgery Monday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. He is hopeful to return to the Braves in time for the home opener on April 13 against Milwaukee, but Gonzalez wasn't making any guarantees. ... Astros LHP Sergio Escalona will undergo Tommy John surgery to repair his ligament damage to his left elbow. He is expected to miss the entire season. . OF Jordan Schafer took batting practice and will start on Monday against Washington. He is batting .391 on the spring but hasn't played since March 18 after making a diving catch. . RHP Jordan Lyles will start on Monday in Viera against the Nationals. LHP John Lannan will start for Washington.
The Associated Press News Service
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