More evidence of the baseball jewel that is the Senior League World Series held each August in Bangor is that two of the major storylines in Major League Baseball’s spring training camps this year involve alumni of the weeklong event that brings some of the top 15- and 16-year-old players from around the world to Mansfield Stadium.
The Atlanta Braves are hoping for a full recovery from 26-year-old right-hander Jair Jurrjens, the team’s pitching ace and a 2011 National League All-Star selection before being sidelined by a nagging right knee injury.
Jurrjens played for the Willemstad, Curacao, team that won the SLWS title in 2002, the first year the event was held in Bangor. Jurrjens was 1-1 on the mound for the Latin American champions, allowing three earned runs in 12⅓ innings. He also went 3 for 14 at the plate with six RBIs while seeing duty at shortstop and third base.
Jurrjens subsequently was signed by the Detroit Tigers organization, and made his major league debut with the Tigers in 2007 before being traded to the Braves a year later. He soon earned his way into the Atlanta rotation and emerged as one of the top pitchers in the National League early last season.
Despite starting the 2011 campaign on the disabled list, Jurrjens led the league with 12 victories and a 1.87 earned run average at the All-Star break before his balky knee — which had undergone arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus in October 2010 — began acting up again and eventually ended his season.
According to published reports, Jurrjens has not felt any pain in his knee so far this spring, but he has had difficulties with his pitching location early in spring training. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder allowed six earned runs on eight hits over five innings during his most recent outing Tuesday, raising his preseason ERA to 10.13 in four starts.
“I’m trying not to go crazy,” said Jurrjens to MLB.com. “I’ve just got to keep working, and hopefully by the time the season starts, I’ll be getting some results.”
It’s apparently an issue of confidence in his knee rather than the knee itself.
“I’m trying to push off and make sure the leg is 100 percent,” Jurrjens told MLB.com. “It’s taking a little bit of concentration off the hitters. This is my fourth start, and I’ve had no pain. I need to start concentrating on hitters again and stop worrying about my leg.”
While Jurrjens is struggling in his bid to earn his first Opening Day start for the Braves, another Bangor Senior League World Series veteran may make his major league debut in place of another injury-plagued All-Star.
Chase Utley, a five-time All-Star second baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies, is suffering from a chronic knee condition that likely will sideline him at the start of the 2012 season.
Enter 22-year-old Freddy Galvis, who batted .500 while leading the Paraguana Little League of Falcon, Venezuela, to the 2006 Senior League World Series championship.
The 5-10, 170-pound Galvis, a shortstop since before his SLWS days, has been shifted to second base this spring in light of Utley’s uncertainty and has played well enough to quiet speculation that the Phillies might need to make a trade for a veteran middle infielder.
“I think we have people in house [to play second],” said Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Freddy has done a nice job for us. Until someone unseats Freddy, he’ll be one of the candidates. Freddy’s done fine.”
Veteran Placido Polanco is another candidate to fill in at second base for the Phillies, but the preseason play of Galvis — who batted .273 in 104 games at Class AA Reading and .298 in 33 games at Class AAA Lehigh Valley last year — has quelled that talk.
“We could [move Polanco over], but I like Galvis,” said Amaro to the Inquirer. “Has Galvis done anything to not warrant playing? He’s been our best player this spring.”