Bill Shanks

Can Julio Terehan be the ace the Atlanta Braves need?

The term "baseball ace" is thrown around a lot these days. We might have a distorted view of it from watching several aces in Atlanta 20 years ago, but being a No. 1 pitcher in a rotation does not necessarily mean a pitcher is an ace.

An ace is special. Yes, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were all special. That's why they are in Cooperstown. They were all No. 1 pitchers, and the Braves can only dream of having three No. 1s in the same rotation again one day.

Tim Hudson was a very good pitcher, and in some seasons, he was Atlanta's No. 1 starter. Was he an ace? Well, he was pretty darn close.

How many aces are there in baseball today? Certainly you can't say 30, since again, just being a team's top starter doesn't mean a pitcher is an ace. There's a difference. You might be able to pick out 20 pitchers who would define an ace - a dominant pitcher who is a top starter, a leader and who can be counted on in a pressure situation.

But being an ace includes intangibles. In a way, there's no clear definition. You really know an ace when you see one.

Julio Teheran started his fourth season in Atlanta's rotation Monday against the Washington Nationals. He is now Atlanta's top starter for the second year in a row. But will Teheran ever be the ace many predicted he would be as he was coming up in the minor leagues several years ago?

Teheran won 14 games in 2013 and 2014. His combined ERA in those two seasons was 3.03, and he averaged 202 innings in those two seasons. Those were really good numbers. But then last season, Teheran slipped to an 11-8 record and a 4.04 ERA on a bad team.

Teheran was horrible in the first half of the season, with a 4.56 ERA. A great month of September (a 1.62 ERA in six starts) saved his season numbers. Teheran still pitched more than 200 innings (200-2/3 to be exact), and he gave up fewer hits (189) than innings pitched, so there were some bright spots.

The Braves need Teheran to become an ace. He's by far the best pitcher in the rotation. It's a group made up of young pitchers, even younger than Teheran at 25 years old. And, it's likely to get younger as the Braves continue to bring up the great pitching prospects they've assembled.

Teheran continued his good work from late last season in spring training, as he had a 2.01 ERA in five starts. Then Monday in the season opener, ­Teheran pitched six strong innings and gave up just two runs on five hits. It was another great sign that Teheran is back to his 2013 and 2014 form.

This team might struggle, as it showed Monday. But it would certainly help the big picture of what the Braves are trying to do if Teheran realizes his full potential. They need someone to become the leader of the staff, and it's not impossible for a 25-year-old with three seasons under his belt to take that role. The young pitchers need to see how a top prospect, like Teheran was, became a top major league pitcher.

So while we're expecting to watch the development of young pitchers this season, let's also watch Teheran's development, as well. If he becomes an ace, the Braves will benefit tremendously from having a pitcher not every team is fortunate to have on a staff.

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