Ninth-inning rally falls short, Braves lose to Giants

Sixteen days after his last start, Jair Jurrjens came off the disabled list Wednesday and still didn’t have anything resembling his first-half effectiveness.

Jurrjens was knocked around for five runs and eight hits in six innings of a 7-5 loss against the San Francisco Giants at Turner Field, a game made interesting by the Braves’ improbable four-run, two-out rally in the ninth inning.

“It was good to see the life at the end of the game,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves briefly entertained thoughts of a third walkoff win in a row against the Giants. “We had the tying run at plate and the guy we want [Brian McCann] at the plate.”

After Jason Heyward’s two-out RBI single in the ninth, shortstop Orlando Cabrera dropped Michael Bourn’s flare pop-up to let in a run. Martin Prado’s two-run double against left-hander Jeremy Affeldt cut the lead to two before McCann struck out on eight pitches.

After the Braves’ third loss in 10 games, the focus was on Jurrjens’ return from a knee strain.

After going 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA in 16 starts before the All-Star break, he’s 0-2 with a 6.52 ERA in five starts since. But Jurrjens and Gonzalez insisted they were encouraged by this outing.

“I felt good,” Jurrjens said. “Just leaving some pitches up, and the change-up wasn’t doing anything today. Just a little rusty. ... I just need to go back in the bullpen and try to work on mechanics now and try to get a feel for my pitches and try to get my groove back.”

The right-hander said he didn’t have any problems pushing off with his right leg after spending the past two weeks strengthening the quadriceps muscle above the knee. He had arthroscopic knee surgery for a cartilage tear in October and weakness in the knee after the All-Star break.

“I think his start got better after the second or third inning,” Gonzalez said. “His stuff got to a little crisper. That’s why we kept running him out there. He came out of it good, [trainer Jeff Porter] just came in and said he’s fine. The quad was good, everything was good, so we’ll go on to his next start.”

The loss was the first for the Braves in six games this season against the Giants, who trail Atlanta by five games in the National League wild-card race. In the finale of a four-game series Thursday night, Braves rookie Mike Minor faces Giants ace Tim Lincecum.

After the Braves wasted early scoring opportunities against Matt Cain, the Giants right-hander retired the last 18 batters he faced following Dan Uggla’s leadoff double in the third inning.

Cain (10-9) worked eight innings and allowed five hits, one run and one walk with nine strikeouts.

“He pitched really well tonight,” said Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who led off the ninth with a single against lefty Dan Runzler, after going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Cain.

“[Cain] was able to go in and out and with his slider and off-speed pitches and keep us off balance.”

The Giants were without closer Brian Wilson, who has a strained elbow and is expected to miss at least two more games.

Jurrjens struggled against a banged-up Giants team that had lost 13 of its previous 18 games while batting .234 and averaging fewer than 2.5 runs per game. They jumped on him early, getting a run in the first inning on one-out doubles by Mike Fontenot and Pablo Sandoval.

After retiring eight of the next nine batters, Jurrjens yielded three consecutive hits to start the fourth inning, including an Aubrey Huff leadoff double and Cabrera’s RBI single. After No. 7 hitter Brandon Belt walked to load the bases, Eli Whiteside’s single pushed the lead to 3-1.

Cain and Cody Ross followed with back-to-back sacrifice flies — both to the warning track — for a 5-1 lead.

The Giants added two more sacrifice flies in the ninth off Scott Linebrink, who has allowed four earned runs while recording a total of three outs in two appearances since returning from the DL.

The Giants scored four in the fourth inning, after scoring more than three runs in only four of their previous 18 games.

“Just two bloopers started it,” Jurrjens said. “After that I fell behind and needed to throw a strike. I kept going into hitters’ counts. They’re a good team. In the big leagues, if you keep falling behind in the count and you throw a fastball, everybody is going to hit you.”

The Braves frittered away early opportunities against Cain, who didn’t allow any after the third.

After Freeman struck out with the bases loaded and one out in the first inning, Chipper Jones drew a bases-loaded walk for the Braves’ first run. Jose Constanza lined out to left field to end the inning, and the Braves stranded six in the first three innings while going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

McCann struck out with two on to end the second, and the Braves wasted Uggla’s leadoff double in the third. Freeman and Jones struck out consecutively, Jones taking a called third strike with Uggla at third base after he had hustled from second on a misplayed pickoff attempt.