Three Cuts: Teheran delivers with arm, bat in win over Nationals

Julio Teheran, who had an RBI-single in the fourth inning, is hitting .241 over the last two seasons.

Taking three cuts as the Braves chased Stephen Strasburg en route to a 6-2 win over the Nationals on Saturday night in Washington, D.C.

He did it with his bat, twice.

There in lies one of the more underrated parts of Julio Teheran’s game, as he delivered an RBI single in the fourth inning. The past two seasons, only Zack Greinke (.317) has a better average than Teheran’s .241 among pitchers with at least 58 at-bats.

Of course, it’s with Teheran’s arm that he’s made his name, a fact the Nationals are all too familiar with.

His 36 innings against Washington are nine more than he’s thrown against anyone, and the simple fact is, he’s getting better and better against them. Since getting touched up for a season-high 10 hits last April 29, Teheran has proceeded to give up six runs in his last 25 2/3 innings vs. the Nats with a 1.144 WHIP and 24 strikeouts.

Adam LaRoche set a harrowing tone as he sent a hanging slide into the right-field upper deck, a two-run shot that gave the Nationals a lead their defense couldn’t hold. But that first-inning trouble aside, it was most of Teheran’s overall domination against the National League East rivals as he yielded three hits in seven innings with six strikeouts and four walks.

It wasn’t an amazingly effective performance as he needed 111 pitches and four himself behind the count against each of the final 10 batters he faced and had 10 three-ball counts in all. However, only one of the last 22 got a hit, and while the Nationals did threaten again in the fifth when they had runners at the corner, B.J. Upton’s catch of Bryce Harper’s offering, and ensuing throw to nail Jose Lobaton at the plate ended that.

The night came on the heels of a 2-0 Opening Day loss to the Brewers in which Teheran put the Braves into position to win — he gave up seven scattered hits in six innings, thought the only damage that came was on Aramis Ramirez’s two-run double in the fourth. In that outing, the bats couldn’t offer Teheran any support, something he didn’t lack for Saturday night as the Braves pounded out 13 hits in all, a healthy share coming via that undervalued bat, Teheran.

No batter has had more success against Stephen Strasburg than Dan Uggla. Of course, no one has had more chances against him either, with Uggla’s 31 at-bats the most by eight over Braves right fielder Jason Heyward and it helps that Uggla has more success against fastballs (he has delivered 113 runs above average vs. that pitch in his nine-year career) and Strasburg is a fastball-heavy pitcher, throwing it 62.5 percent of the time.

But it was on a 78-mph curveball — the second straight Strasburg threw Uggla — that he drove to left field for a two-run single in the Braves’ four-run fifth inning. Of the nine pitches that Uggla saw against Strasburg, just of them were fastballs.

It hasn’t always been pretty as Uggla has been struck out 11 times by Strasburg (the pitcher’s most vs. anyone), with the latest coming in the fourth inning. But since the Nationals young ace made his debut in 2010, he’s been Uggla’s favorite victim, tagging him for more hits (12) and RBI (10) and owns a staggering .387/.441/.645 slash line in their meetings, his best of anyone with more than 15 at-bats against.

With Justin Upton on second, a routine grounder by Andrelton Simmons to deep third base should have ended the inning. But then Ryan Zimmerman did what he’s done multiple times against the Braves the past year.

His throw sailed over first baseman Adam LaRoche’s head, allowing Upton to trim the Nationals’ lead to 2-1 and Simmons to take second in the error. A batter later, Teheran followed with a single over LaRoche’s head to tie the game.

It harkened back to last April’s series, when he committed an error in each of their first three meetings. One came on a sidearm throw to second base to try and get Upton with two outs in the ninth in an eventual 6-4 Atlanta win in 10 innings; another on a wild throw to first on an Upton grounder that set the stage for a Evan Gattis’ two-run home run off Strasburg; and finally, a miss on Ramiro Pena’s ground ball in the third inning.

In all, Zimmerman committed four errors in the first six games between the NL East rivals last season and three of those mistakes — just like Saturday night — directly led to Braves runs. And just like the miscues of last April, the latest has put the Braves in position to earn an early sweep of Washington.