Two of the National League’s better young starting pitchers square off for the third time this season Wednesday night when Mike Pelfrey leads the New York Mets into the middle contest of a three-game home series against Jair Jurrjens and the NL East rival Atlanta Braves.
Pelfrey and Jurrjens own identical records, and each right-hander is tied for his club’s staff lead in wins. When they’ve faced each other, though, Jurrjens (11-8, 3.15 ERA) has gotten the better of Pelfrey (11-8, 3.91) both times.
Jurrjens has pitched well in the two wins, limiting the Mets to four earned runs and seven hits over 13 innings. As good as Jurrjens has been in those games, Pelfrey has been every bit as bad, giving up 11 runs, 17 hits and seven walks in 9 1-3 innings to get charged with both losses.
Braves catcher Brian McCann, in particular, has enjoyed great success versus Pelfrey, going 6-for-11 lifetime with four doubles.
Struggles such as those he’s endured against Atlanta have been the exception rather than the rule for Pelfrey in his first full major league season. The 6-foot-7 24-year-old won six consecutive starts from June 16-July 13, and produced another stellar outing last Friday at Pittsburgh.
Pelfrey scattered seven hits and did not walk a batter in seven scoreless innings to earn a 2-1 win for the Mets.
“He got the big outs when he needed them,” Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. “It’s a sign that he’s evolving into a quality pitcher. He doesn’t panic when he gets in trouble. He’s maturing into the type of pitcher that can get the big outs.”
Manuel will likely be cautious with Pelfrey, who threw 98 pitches Friday and is 7 2-3 innings shy of his total of 152 2-3 from all of 2007.
“Because he’s in unchartered waters, I want to keep his innings down,” Manuel said.
Pelfrey will try to lead the Mets to their second straight win and eighth in nine games. New York (69-57) maintained its 1 1/2-game lead over Philadelphia in the division with a 7-3 victory in Tuesday’s series opener, as Carlos Delgado’s bases-loaded double highlighted a five-run rally in the eighth inning.
New York received 2 2-3 scoreless innings from its beleaguered bullpen after learning earlier in the day that closer Billy Wagner is out indefinitely due to swelling in his left elbow.
“We just have to pick up the slack and do the best we can. At this point, I don’t even know what else the organization can do,” said Scott Schoeneweis, who pitched a scoreless ninth inning in a non-save situation.
The loss was the third straight and eighth in nine games for the Braves (56-70), who fell 14 games below .500 for the first time since they finished 65-97 in 1990.
On a positive note for Atlanta, Chipper Jones went 2-for-3 to increase his major league-leading batting average to .365. The third baseman has at least one hit in all 10 games he’s played since coming off the disabled list due to a left hamstring strain.
Jurrjens is riding a streak of five consecutive quality starts, but has lost three of his last four outings due to receiving only four total runs of support in those defeats. He limited San Francisco to two runs over seven innings Friday and struck out a career-high nine batters, but got saddled with a 5-1 loss.
“He’s got everything to be proud of,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “He can’t do the hitting.”