The baseball term “ace” refers to a top starting pitcher. It’s usually reserved for one of the best starting pitchers in the game. Not every team’s No. 1 starter is an ace, but a lot of them are.
Those who have followed the Braves have a distorted view of the word, since for many years Atlanta had three aces: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
Those three all will be enshrined in Cooperstown, so it’s not very fair to compare all top Braves pitchers to those three, but unfortunately it always will be done anyway.
For example, Tim Hudson was a very good pitcher for the Braves. You can debate whether he was an ace pitcher, but he was Atlanta’s top starter for many years after Smoltz left. Hudson probably would be considered the fifth best starting pitcher in Atlanta’s history, behind the big three and Phil Niekro.
I’d call Hudson an ace, especially after he had Tommy John surgery. Hudson was 59-34 with a 3.35 ERA after he returned from the elbow operation. That’s pretty good.
We all believed Kris Medlen was ready to assume the role after Hudson left for the San Francisco Giants last winter. Medlen was 30-13 with a 2.96 ERA in his career as a starting pitcher, but he got hurt in spring training and will miss at least one full season with his second Tommy John surgery.
But it looks like the Braves might have an ace in the making. Julio Teheran is off to a great start with a 1.80 ERA in his first five starts. Since he started the 2013 season with three subpar starts, Teheran has gone 16-9 with a 2.64 ERA in his past 32 starts.
Teheran is a young pitcher who was a top prospect right when he signed in 2007 as a 16-year-old. Scouts said then if he had been in that year’s draft (instead of being an international signee), chances are he would have been a top-five pick.
And he rarely disappointed. Teheran sailed through the minor leagues, and Baseball America ranked him as Atlanta’s top prospect three years in a row. But the turning point for Teheran might have been when he was asked to go back to Triple-A Gwinnett for a second straight season two years ago.
In 2011, Teheran had a 2.55 ERA in his first season in the International League as a 20-year-old. He went 15-3, and it had to be difficult for a young pitcher who dominated Triple-A to be asked to go back for one more season.
Teheran struggled with a 5.08 ERA in his 26 starts when he went back to Gwinnett last year. That had to humble him a bit. Sometimes it helps a prospect to struggle, to face a little adversity, especially if he has found it relatively easy for most of his minor league career.
So when Teheran took a rotation spot in Atlanta last season, he seemed like a different pitcher. It was like the bad year in Gwinnett prepared him to make that final jump to the big leagues. Everyone in the big leagues struggles at some point, so it was good for Teheran to realize what he’ll have to do to overcome those challenges.
If you’ve watched any of his games this season, you probably agree that Teheran looks like an ace. You don’t have to know any statistics. He’s pretty much dominated every game, and on Monday, he didn’t even have his best stuff. Yet Teheran still allowed only one run in seven innings against Miami.
The Braves have a couple of great veteran starters in Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang, and they have two good, young left-handers in Alex Wood and Mike Minor. But it certainly helps to have an ace lead the way, and Teheran is assuming that role with every trip to the mound.
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