Braves go for seventh straight win vs. Nationals

ATLANTA — Julio Teheran has made five consecutive starts on Opening Day for the Atlanta Braves and has two All-Star Games on his resume, but where the right-hander might fall in a postseason rotation remains in doubt.

At least Teheran is a solid starting candidate now after appearing to be on the outside looking in during the first four months of what was shaping up as a very disappointing season.

The victim of too many walks and home runs much of the season, the 27-year-old from Colombia is on the upswing as he faces the Washington Nationals on Saturday in the middle game of a weekend series at SunTrust Park.

Teheran (9-7, 3.95 ERA) has quality starts in five of his past six outings and has posted a 2.33 ERA with a 34-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio and just two homers allowed in that span.

The Braves (83-64) kept their lead over the Philadelphia Phillies at 7 1/2 games while reducing their magic number to nine with a 10-5 victory over the Nationals on Friday night.

The victory was the sixth straight for the Braves and left the Nationals (74-74) facing near elimination at 9 1/2 games back. Atlanta’s magic number against Washington is down to six.

Two-time defending National League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer couldn’t hold down the Braves in the series opener and now the Nationals turn to right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (5-3, 3.57 ERA), who just came off the disabled list.

Teheran hasn’t shown the velocity he once had, but his command and off-speed pitches have been much better of late.

“My last four starts I’ve been feeling really good,” Teheran said. “I’ve been feeling that I have all of my pitches, and I think that’s been the difference.”

Teheran was at his worst in a home start against the Nationals in early April, giving up three homers and five runs in 2 1/3 shaky innings that included six hits and three walks.

Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper took him deep in that game, as did former Nationals pitcher A.J. Cole, although Teheran escaped with a no-decision.

Homers made for a rough debut season at SunTrust Park for Teheran last season. This season, walks at home and away have been the bigger issue.

Opponents are batting just .198 against Teheran, but he has surrendered 73 walks in 159 1/3 innings.

“I know every time that I walk (a batter), they score a run,” he said. “I try to put that to the side and try to make pitches.”

Despite his rough outing against the Nationals, Teheran is 4-2 with a 3.81 ERA and 11 homers allowed in 15 home starts compared to 5-5 with a 4.13 ERA and 13 homers in 13 road starts.

Teheran took a loss at Washington in mid-April but worked six solid innings. He is 6-5 with a 4.12 ERA in 20 career starts against the Nationals.

Harper has feasted on Teheran, batting .450 (18-for-40) with eight home runs.

Hellickson, sidelined by a right wrist sprain, made his last appearance for Washington on Aug. 15 and has been limited to 18 starts this season because of two stints on the disabled list.

Neither injury was caused making a pitch. He had to leave a start against the Braves on June 3 after two batters when he strained his right hamstring covering first base, then suffered the sprained wrist when he tumbled covering home plate.

Hellickson is 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA in six career starts against the Braves.