Jurrjens welcomes a 2nd chance with Mud Hens

Pitcher set to join Toledo rotation

Jair Jurrjens jokes with teammates before Friday night’s game against Buffalo at Fifth Third Field.
Jair Jurrjens jokes with teammates before Friday night’s game against Buffalo at Fifth Third Field.

Once a Tiger, always a Tiger, Jair Jurrjens thought.

Well, perhaps the 27-year-old right-hander didn’t think of things exactly in those terms. But after beginning his career in the Detroit organization, Jurrjens welcomed the opportunity to rejoin the Tigers when the chance presented itself.

Jurrjens was in the dugout Saturday for the Mud Hens’ 4-3 victory over Buffalo at Fifth Third Field and will enter the Toledo rotation Wednesday.

“Detroit wanted me to [sign with them] since the offseason,” Jurrjens said. “But I saw their starting rotation, especially with a solid five starters, and I thought Baltimore looked like a better spot for me to go.

“When I got DFA’d by Baltimore, the Tigers were the first team that reached out [to me]. They said, ‘We want you to come home.’ I told my agent, ‘If the situation is the same, I want to go to a place where people know me.’ ”

A native of Curacao, Jurrjens originally signed with the Tigers in 2002. In 2007 he pitched for Double-A Erie, where he met with the team’s pitching coach, A.J. Sager.

Things clicked for Jurrjens with Sager and the SeaWolves as he went 7-5 with a 3.20 ERA in 19 starts to earn a promotion with Detroit.

During the offseason the Tigers traded Jurrjens to Atlanta and his career flourished. He won 13 games in 2008, 14 the next season, and 13 more games in 2011.

But a torn meniscus in his right knee resulted in surgery in 2010, and Jurrjens is looking to return to the form he had before the injury.

“We saw him on the other side of the field a couple of times, and mechanically he looks the same,” Sager said. “He looks very much the same as he did when he was pitching really well.

“There still are some things we have to get to the bottom of, but it seems similar to what it was before.”

Jurrjens said the opportunity to work with Sager again was a major reason he signed with the Tigers after Baltimore designated him for assignment earlier this month.

“Working with a pitching coach who knows me is very important,” Jurrjens said. “I’m trying to get my old mechanics back, and A.J. knows me from before I was injured.

“He might remember something I’m not doing, and things might click and I’ll get on a good roll. And in baseball, you never know what might happen after that.”

Jurrjens began the season with Norfolk and had a 6-6 record with a 4.18 ERA in 16 starts with the Tides. He was promoted to Baltimore and made two appearances with the Orioles, allowing three hits in 2.1 innings and posting a 4.91 ERA.

“For me, my confidence is high,” Jurrjens said. “A lot of people didn’t think I would be in the major leagues this year, and I showed a lot of people I could give a major-league team a chance to win.

Sager said he looks forward to working with Jurrjens, whose repertoire includes a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a circle change-up and a slurve.

“When it comes to catching, a big thing is trust,” Sager said. “If you have some history with a player – especially if the history was good – the trust factor is going to be there.

“Jair is a good guy, and that makes you look forward to having those pitchers come back [to your organization]. I know his work ethic, and I know what he is about, and that makes me excited to work with him.”

The Hens scored four runs in the first five innings, then had to overcome a pair of late-game rallies by Buffalo to snap a three-game losing streak.

NOTES: The start of the game was delayed 44 minutes by rain. … The crowd of 11,000 was the Mud Hens’ 18th sellout this year, the 345th in Fifth Third Field history.

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.