Julio Teheran back on track for Braves

sports@macon.comMarch 19, 2012 

Two years ago, as a 20-year old, Julio Teheran won 15 games in Triple-A. He had a 2.55 ERA in 25 games. It looked like he was ready for the big leagues.

But there was one problem. The Atlanta Braves didn’t have room for him.

The rotation was pretty stacked, so Teheran went back down to the minors for another year in the International League.

There’s not a pitcher in the history of the sport who has wanted to repeat Triple-A, particularly after winning 15 games the year before. That will make anyone believe they are ready for that final jump.

Teheran, who has been a top prospect for the past three years, struggled when he went back to Gwinnett. His issues started in spring training, and then Teheran had a 5.08 ERA in 26 starts.

He went from a 15-3 record in 2011 to a 7-9 mark last season.

“It was difficult,” Teheran said, stating the obvious.

It’s often a good test for a prospect who has sailed through the minor leagues to see how he will handle that first adversity. Teheran had never had any problems at all as a professional, so it was important for him to bounce back strong.

And unlike a year ago, the Braves had room for him in the rotation this season. You almost wonder if they made room for him by letting Jair Jurrjens leave and trading Tommy Hanson and Randall Delgado.

Teheran went to winter ball and did well. But something more important happened in the Dominican Republic. He had dinner with future Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, whom Teheran actually had been compared to when he first signed almost six years ago as a 16-year-old.

“It was exciting for me,” Teheran said. “I tried to put in my mind what he told me to do. He told me he saw me pitch last year. He told me to save my energy for the whole game, and that’s what I’m trying to do this year.

“He just told me to pitch and concentrate on the game, and when I get out there to think I’m the best. That’s what I have on my mind right now.”

That one conversation with Martinez gave Teheran a confidence he needed. He has always had a swagger, but a 5.08 ERA in a second season of Triple-A will humble any prospect. And in retrospect, that bad season last year, along with meeting Martinez, might have been the best things to ever happen to Teheran.

He now once again looks like the pitcher who could be a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. In five starts this spring, Teheran has a 1.35 ERA with three runs allowed on seven hits in 20 innings, with six walks and five strikeouts.

But here’s the best part about Teheran: He has learned how to pitch. Most prospects are able to impress scouts and coaches when they sign with an explosive fastball and decent breaking stuff. That rarely translates, however, to the big leagues, where good hitters will be able to hit ordinary stuff.

Teheran always threw hard, but now he’s sitting at 91-94 mph with his fastball. He has learned a two-seamer, which complements his changeup and breaking ball to make him a more complete pitcher.

“He looks comfortable on the mound, like he’s going to deliver a pitch and get through a ballgame,” catcher Gerald Laird said. “You can see it in the eyes. When guys get on, the game’s not coming fast to him. He’s taking a deep breath. He’s making his pitches. He’s getting out of the innings without giving up runs.”

That was obvious Sunday in Port St. Lucie, Fla., as Teheran pitched against the Mets. He gave up a long home run in the first inning. A year ago, Teheran might have folded and given up four or five more runs. Instead, Teheran shut down the Mets and did not allow another run in his six innings of work.

“He gathered himself, and he continued to make pitches,” Laird said. “He didn’t give up much after that. You like to see a guy give up something and see how he responds. He did a good job with that.”

There’s little doubt Teheran has silenced many critics, who wondered if he was yet another prospect that unfulfilled his potential. There’s also little doubt that Teheran has won the job as Atlanta’s fifth starter.

“Yeah, that’s what I think,” Teheran said with a big smile. “I’m just waiting on them to tell me. I’m real excited.”

So are the Braves, and Teheran is giving everyone a lot to be excited about.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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