Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Even with the NBA Draft slated to begin at 7:30 on Thursday night, I made sure my dial was turned to the Arizona Diamondbacks-Atlanta Braves game.
With superstar prospect Trevor Bauer on the hill for Arizona, I thought this could be the most scintillating major league debut since Stephen Strasburg broke onto the scene back in 2010.
If you remember that game back on June 8, 2010, Strasburg turned in a dazzling performance, striking out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates in front of a sold-out crowd in the nation's capital.
Bauer and Strasburg shared a similar path to the big leagues. Both won the Golden Spikes Award as the best player in college during their junior years (Strasburg pitched for San Diego State while Bauer starred for UCLA), both feature a plus fastball and both players ascended rapidly through the minor leagues (Strasburg made 11 minor league starts before his major league debut, Bauer made 16).
Despite the similarities, Bauer's first taste of the major leagues was nothing like Strasburg's remarkable debut.
While Strasburg looked polished and confident in his first start, Bauer looked shaky from the get-go.
I could tell the 21-year-old was rattled from the opening pitch. After firing a called strike down the middle to Braves leadoff hitter Michael Bourn, Bauer tossed the baseball back to the dugout to be kept as a souvenir. Except he threw it to the wrong dugout. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez had to hurl the ball back across the field to the Diamondbacks' coaching staff.
Bauer's fastball, which was advertised to be in the high 90s, topped out at just 95 mph and most of his attempted curveballs ended up in the dirt instead of the strike zone. He showed nice poise working his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the third inning, but ultimately the rookie ended up getting pulled after just four innings and 74 pitches. He surrendered two runs on five hits during the outing while also striking out three and allowing three walks.
Bauer's odd Tim Lincecum-like delivery may have baffled hitters at the minor league level (he was 11-1 with a 2.23 ERA in Double-A and Triple-A before getting called up), but it failed to produce results against a more disciplined Atlanta lineup on Thursday.
While it would be a stretch to say the Braves hammered Bauer (though three of their five hits against him went for extra bases, none had a shot at leaving the park), it was certainly an uneven performance by the young right-hander and it looks like Bauer still has a lot of work to do before he'll be considered a must-have fantasy starting pitcher.
Interestingly enough, the most dominant pitcher on the mound for either team Thursday night may have been beleaguered Atlanta starter Jair Jurrjens.
Many people forget that Jurrjens was an All-Star for the Braves last season, compiling a 12-3 record and a league-leading 1.87 ERA before the All-Star break. What people seem to remember is Jurrjens' disastrous second half when he went 1-2 with a 5.88 ERA before bowing out to a knee injury that ended his season in early August.
Jurrjens was basically left for dead at this year's fantasy draft: I bought him for $1 in my auction draft before dropping him in late April following his demotion to the minor leagues.
Even in Triple-A, Jurrjens was struggling. His 10 starts for the Gwinnett Braves included a miserable 12-hit, 11-run outing against the Buffalo Bisons on May 16, an 11-hit, seven-run failure against Rochester in his following start and later a shockingly awful 12-hit, 10-run effort in a loss to the Charlotte Knights on June 1.
Yet, somehow Jurrjens' 3-4 record and 5.18 ERA were enough to earn a promotion back to the big show and he was on the mound June 22 to take on the Boston Red Sox. Against one of the more potent lineups in baseball, Jurrjens tossed 7 2/3 strong innings, limiting the Red Sox to one run on three hits, walking one and fanning four.
Jurrjens followed up his successful outing against Boston with another solid effort Thursday against Arizona. Though he started to run out of gas in the sixth (he allowed two runs in the frame before being removed with two outs), Jurrjens held the Diamondbacks scoreless during the first five innings and seemed to have terrific command of his trademark sinker.
It's only been two starts, but it looks like Jurrjens is beginning to solve many of the problems that contributed to his weak second half last season and later his demotion to Triple-A early on in 2012. With Brandon Beachy (5-5, 2.00 ERA) out for the remainder of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last week, it looks like the 26-year-old Jurrjens will be in Atlanta's rotation for the long haul.
His reliance on the sinker probably won't produce high strikeout totals, but the pinpoint control Jurrjens has shown over his last two outings suggests he can reward fantasy owners with wins and a low ERA going forward.
It was supposed to be Bauer's night, but instead it was Jurrjens who shined Thursday at Turner Field in Atlanta. Right now, Bauer is owned in 70.1 percent of fantasy leagues while Jurrjens is owned in just 21 percent. Maybe it should be the other way around.