This year has been a lot of fun so far. I have been throwing strikes, and I have been hitting my spots. The guys have been playing really good defense for me, and they have given me a lot of run support. When you get that run support, it is easier to focus and concentrate on throwing strikes.

When I'm having the success that I have had so far, my mindset is still to go out there and give my team the best chance to win. It is great when I earn a 'W', but if I don't and my team still wins, that is good, too. The more innings I can throw and the more times I can keep the game close, we will come out ahead a lot of times.

Going back to last year, the biggest difference between now and then for me is my health. Last year, I showed up to Spring Training and had an issue. I never got over the hump. I never got to be strong enough and in shape to perform. I pitched during the season in an effort to help the team. But I didn't have a lot of time. Everybody knows it ended tough, with surgery. I couldn't pitch in the playoffs.

This offseason, I got the chance to work out a lot. I really pushed myself to get ready for the season. The knee surgery last October is the biggest injury I have ever had. It came from nowhere. I was surprised. I learned from it, however, and it makes me want to take care of my body even better.

For those who might suggest that what I have done so far is my taking that so-called next step, I don't think about it like that. I'm still at an age where I can learn, and every day I keep learning. I also feel that I am lucky to be in this situation. I am part of a staff with two veteran leaders in Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe.

I hope to have a long career like they both have had. It is great to have guys like that who are true veterans. Hudson has pitched in the playoffs and Lowe in the World Series. To have them pitch before me or after me makes me feel very fortunate. I get to sit down and watch two of the best pitchers of the last 10 or so years go out there and give it their best effort. I try to take a few things from each of them and make it apart of my program, which helps me out.

Right-hander Jair Jurrjens, a native of Willemstad, Curacao, has been one of the Braves' most consistent pitchers so far. He is 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA in nine starts this season. From 2008-09, he won a combined 27 games. Last year, he was limited to 20 starts due to injuries, including one that required arthroscopic surgery on his knee.