Three Cuts: No surprises as Julio Teheran gets Opening Day nod, Mike Foltynewicz makes Braves' rotation
A collection of metal workers bolted in the benches at the top of the dugout, the grounds crew was pounding in dirt around the batter's box, while on the Jumbotron played a number of in-game features.
It's all down to the details at SunTrust Park, and likewise it's a similar story at Braves spring training with two weeks before Opening Day.
This a pitching-rich rundown of the week that was for Atlanta, and with good reason as a few of those details were spelled out for the rotation Sunday.
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1. No surprise here as Julio Teheran will get his fourth straight Opening Day start
In the franchise's 50-plus years in Georgia, only Rick Mahler (1985-88) and Greg Maddux (1993-96) can match Julio Teheran, who Sunday was given the season's first start for the fourth consecutive year.
Adding in the Braves' previous homes, only Warren Spahn has been given start No. 1 more, doing so from 1957-62, a run that ended four years before the team moved to Atlanta.
It was a no-brainer that Teheran gets the nod, despite the additions of two starters with Cy Young awards on their resumes in Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey and another veteran in Jaime Garcia. Teheran is coming off an All-Star, 3.2 WAR season (tying a career best), and while he has a below league average 4.26 xFIP after the break, (he was at 3.74 and 3.75 in May and June) that also came with him needing to gut out starts to aid a taxed bullpen.
He wasn't spectacular in his latest outing of the spring and his first back since suiting up for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic, allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits over five innings. He struck out three and walked one to push his spring ERA to 2.70.
But the unquestioned tone-setter of the rotation should only benefit from those inning-eaters easing his burden, potential setting him up with the most protection he's had in the starting staff since he shared it with Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen and Mike Minor.
Teheran followed his last All-Star season of '14's 3.2 WAR with a 1.1, his worst of any full season in the majors. The thought is that changes for the 26-year-old this year, and it stars April 3 at the Mets.
This will be Teheran's third road Opening Day start with the others coming in '13 in Milwaukee and '14 in Miami. He had a collective 2.25 ERA and 1.416 WHIP in those starts.
With the top of the rotation standing as expected, so too was its bottom, as manager Brian Snitker announced the rest of the starting five.
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2. Mike Foltynewicz is No. 5 in rotation, and is backing up stated mental focus
Behind Teheran, the Braves will trot out -- in order -- Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia, R.A. Dickey and Mike Foltynewicz over the first week of the season. While there was the guise of an open competition for the No. 5 spot to open the spring between Foltynewicz, Aaron Blair, Josh Collmenter, Sean Newcomb and Matt Wisler, that's the expected quintet.
Foltynewicz has backed up that assessment with a 2.08 ERA in 13 spring innings, walking 12 with a 1.15 WHIP. He's said he's made a point of focusing on the mental side of his game -- arguably the only thing that's holding back a 25-year-old with the kind of stuff that can make him a legitimate frontline starter -- and flashed it his last time out against the Tigers.
After allowing a leadoff single to Jose Iglesias, the right-hander walked Anthony Gose, and followed it with a wild pitch to advance the runners. But Foltynewicz got through the inning unscathed -- with the help of an assist from Rio Ruiz, who threw out Iglesias at home -- and allowed one run on five hits and fanned a spring-high seven with that one walk over four innings.
So with Foltynewicz joining the four veterans, it's worth wondering who the next man up is in Atlanta?
Per the depth chart on Braves.com, Wisler is No. 6, followed by Blair. It's worth noting that ranking isn't an official representation of the team's plans, but it's more than likely the correct order of things right now.
While Wisler has a 6.35 ERA in 11 1/3 innings pitched this spring, he's coming off an impressive four innings of one-hit ball vs. the Astros. Meanwhile, Blair has a similarly ballooned ERA in the Grapefruit League (6.23), and his last time out he allowed three runs on six hits in four innings vs. the Phillies. However, he has looked very sharp at times, and has stuck out six in his last 6 2/3 with two talks.
Collmenter, the expected long man out of the bullpen, could be used in a start starter role and Newcomb -- who was reassigned to minor league camp on March 9 -- may well be up sooner rather than later, but had his struggles. He posted a 12.00 ERA in three innings, including four in an inning on March 1 vs. the Yankees.
Wisler made 45 starts over the last two years, and had looked like a foundation piece for this rotation for seasons to come. Of course, he still can be and how he performs in an expected spot at Triple-A Gwinnett to start the season may well dictate how long the Braves ride those veterans, who are on short-term contracts.
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3. Do Bartolo Colon's eye-opening spring numbers matter?
The ever-entertaining Bartolo Colon has defied Father Time for years, posting a 3.59 ERA and 62 wins in 125 starts since turning 40. That included two All-Star seasons in 2013 (2.65 ERA) and '16 (3.43) and no fewer than 14 victories in those years.
Breaking down is a harsh reality, though is that what we're seeing unfold in Atlanta's camp?
Through five starts, the 43-year-old Colon has a 9.20 ERA over 14 2/3 innings and has walked six with nine strikeouts. The last time out vs. Detroit, he was roughed up to the tune of eight hits and six earned runs in 3 2/3 innings and gave up eight hits and five earned runs the time before that against the Pirates. He's also walked six in his last three appearances.
It'd be worth raising an eyebrow over, except Colon's previous five springs have included ERAs of 5.40, 6.30, 5.28, 7.92 and 6.08. That 6.30 was during an All-Star year in Oakland and when the 7.02 in '15 was followed by Colon making 33 starts and posting an MLB-best 1.1 walks per nine innings.
As Colon told reporters last week through an interpreter: "I'm not too worried about the results out there, as far as the hits and runs. The most important thing is that I feel well, feel healthy and feel good. Right now, I'm just taking this time and this opportunity to work on the things I want to work on."
It's part of the legend of Colon. In his 20th season, he surely knows how to dial it up and continue to defy convention and every expectation.