First-place Braves face Rays in short series

The red-hot Tampa Bay Rays are the next obstacle between the surprising Atlanta Braves and their pursuit of the National League East pennant.

Tampa Bay (70-61) is nine games out of the final wild-card spot in the American League but has won eight straight games and just completed a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox, the team with the best record in baseball.

Atlanta (73-57) has a three-game lead over Philadelphia in the NL East but only managed a split of a four-game weekend series against last-place Miami. The Braves are 5-5 in their last 10 games.

The two teams open a quick two-game series on Tuesday at SunTrust Park. Atlanta’s Julio Teheran (9-7, 4.09) will start the opener against Tampa Bay’s Ryne Stanek (2-3, 2.53).

Teheran, a seven-year veteran on the Atlanta staff, has been good in August. In his last four starts, the right-hander has allowed seven runs in 25 2/3 innings for a 2.45 ERA. He has not allowed more than three runs in any start and has limited the opposition to one run in two games.

Teheran’s control has been better (24 strikeouts, nine walks) and he has allowed only two home runs during the month. Gopher balls have plagued him this season; he has allowed 23 in 140 2/3 innings.

Teheran threw seven strong innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates in his last start and allowed only one run despite an average fastball velocity of 88 mph. He was able to locate his pitches and baffled the Pirates.

“We were talking about it during the game,” Atlanta catcher Tyler Flowers said. “He said, ‘I feel great. I’m just trying to locate it and not trying to overthrow it or anything.’ That’s what he ended up doing. I think that was one of his better command days with the full arsenal.”

Stanek has been a workhorse for the Rays. He has appeared in 44 games and made 21 starts. He has not thrown more than two innings in any of his starts. In his 21 starts, Stanek is 0-2 with a 2.84 ERA, with opponents hitting .168 against him.

He is the first pitcher to have 20 starts and 20 relief appearances since Toronto’s Esmil Rogers in 2013 and the first rookie to do it since Minnesota’s Joe Mays in 1999.

Stanek pitched against Boston on Saturday and picked up his second career win. He came into the game and got a flyout on a 3-0 count, picked off an inherited runner and struck out a batter.

Boston manager Alex Cora was impressed by the way Tampa Bay is playing.

“They’ve been playing great,” Cora said. “They’ve been pitching. … It’s a different ballclub compared to early in the season. … It’s a different type of team. More athletes, fast guys. They put the ball in play. They’re very uncomfortable (to play) right now.”

The Braves won the first two games against the Rays in early April, with Sean Newcomb and Teheran each picking up victories.

Atlanta made a roster move on Sunday, recalling third baseman Rio Ruiz from Triple-A Gwinnett. Ruiz drew a walk as a pinch-hitter against the Marlins. He is batting .269 with nine homers and 72 RBIs for Gwinnett this season.

Atlanta designated catcher Chris Stewart for assignment. The veteran spent most of the season in Gwinnett.