Three Cuts: Rookie Teheran's gem paces Braves' 5-1 win
MAY 20, 2013 10:49p ET
1. Julio Teheran keeps getting better and better
As the Braves' rookie starter slowly made his way off the mound, over the line and into the dugout, Turner Field stood in recognition of what was, without question, a career-best performance. His teammates met him on the top steps of the dugout, 8 1/3 innings of one-run baseball behind him, a red-and-blue-clad crowd standing in ovation around him.
Julio Teheran, Atlanta's 22-year-old ace-in-training, is improving.
By leaps and bounds, no less.
The righty nearly went the distance against Minnesota, throwing a career-high 123 pitches, allowing just one run on five hits to go along with four strikeouts. The lone run came on a solo homer in the ninth inning. It was the deepest he's ever gone in a major league outing.
Since allowing 13 earned runs in his first three starts of 2013, Teheran has now held opponents to nine earned runs in his past five starts.
"I think it was good for him to experience that in the ninth inning," said his manager, Fredi Gonzalez. "He had an extra day coming into that start and he'll have an extra day going out of that start. So we took that in consideration. And it was good for him to dig deep down in the gas tank and see if he could do it."
Perhaps the most impressive statistic, if only in Teheran's mind: two. The team's No. 5 pitcher shook off catcher Gerald Laird just twice throughout the 123-pitch affair, placing his trust in the veteran to guide him through the outing.
Things worked out pretty well: he didn't give up a run until his 118th pitch.
Even without his in-progress changeup working for him, Teheran (3-1) hit his spots — he's walked just two batters over his last 29 1/3 innings pitched — and the two battery mates walked away with a convincing win. Eighty of his 123 pitches were thrown for strikes on Monday. He now has the highest strike rate (67.2 percent) among Braves starters, tied for the 11th-highest rate in baseball with Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann.
Now, throwing strikes does not immediately guarantee success — Diamondbacks starter Brandon McCarthy boasts the highest strike rate in the majors, yet is just 1-3 with a 4.74 ERA; on the other hand, Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee, Jake Peavy, Hisashi Iwakuma and Shelby Miller are also among the league leaders— but with Teheran's stuff and Laird's guidance, things are starting to come together. He's lowered his ERA from 5.08 respectable 3.99 in three starts this month.
"(Laird) helped me a lot. Everything he wanted pitched, I tried (not to shake) him," Teheran said. "When I did in the seventh inning, he got mad at me."
Added Gonzalez: "I thought Gerald did a terrific job guiding him through all those innings. I think Gerald was more disappointed that he didn't get the complete game shutout — or even a complete game — more than Julio was. That's how into it he was with Julio in that game."
2. Braves offense does its damage early — for once
Here's one way to approach the past two weeks of Atlanta baseball: the Braves have shown the propensity to muster a comeback. They've had to. Since a May 7 loss to Cincinnati — a game that concluded on Craig Kimbrel's third blown save in five chances — until Monday night, the Braves had not scored first.
It's not like the Reds, Giants, Diamondbacks or Dodgers (man, that's quite a few teams) were dominating from the outset in each game during that streak: Atlanta was outscored just 5-0 in the first inning over that stretch, going 6-5. Over 11 games, that's not too much to overcome.
But being chased for once was a pleasant change.
"What can you say? A win's a win either way, whether it's done in the eighth, the ninth or in the first," second baseman Dan Uggla said about taking the pressure off early. "We'll take anything."
They did break the streak in relative style, though.
Atlanta's hitters jumped all over Twins starter Kevin Correia in the first inning, possibly before he even got off the team bus (official stats are hazy on this).
Following a barrage of singles from middle-of-the-lineup bats Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman that put the Braves up 1-0, Uggla strode into the box still trying to find his swing. His three-run shot helped do the trick, at least as far as Monday night was concerned.
The oft-maligned Atlanta second baseman is still hitting at a .190 clip this season, but his eight home runs now rank second among MLB second baseman.
3. Eric O'Flaherty to have Tommy John surgery Tuesday
During the sixth inning of Monday's game, the press box announcer came over his intercom to announce news the Braves organization likely expected, but still did not want to hear as O'Flaherty, one of the top relievers in baseball over the past few seasons, is headed to Dr. James Andrews to undergo Tommy John surgery on Tuesday.
He is out for the rest of the season.
As has been discussed ad nauseam since O'Flaherty began complaining of elbow soreness against the Dodgers, the Braves bullpen can ill-afford many more injuries with O'Flaherty and setup man Jonny Venters out for the year.
Relievers Jordan Walden, Christhian Martinez and Luis Ayala are also currently on the Braves' disabled list for various (and reportedly temporary) reasons.
There's no question O'Flaherty will be missed — replacing the second-best reliever ERA in baseball since 2010 is no laughing matter. Atlanta will certainly have a foundation for its retooling process with Kimbrel (14 saves, 2.74 FIP), but the moves Frank Wren and the front office make concerning their bullpen will be interesting moving forward.
Of course, if rookie pitchers are going to deliver absolute gems, who needs a bullpen, right?
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