Defense helps spotty Julio Teheran in first spring start

Julio Teheran took the mound for the first time this spring on Monday, hoping to build off a solid finish to an otherwise unspectacular 2017 season.

Teheran pitched two innings against the Nationals in the Braves’ spring home opener at the Wide World of Sports complex.

He threw 28 pitches (15 strikes) and received plentiful help from his defense, finishing a brief scoreless outing despite allowing two hits and issuing two walks.

“I feel very good,” Teheran said. “My command, it was OK. The second inning, I got excited but other than that I feel fine. Just feels a little bit weird after four months, not pitching in a real game.”

Nationals infielder Wilmer Difo hit a hard ground ball that a shifted Ozzie Albies fielded to open the game with an out. 

Top outfield prospect Victor Robles singled to left and stole second with one down in the first, but Teheran produced two left-field flyouts to avoid any damage.

Teheran’s second frame wasn’t as kind. His velocity consistently sat in the low 90s, as expected, but his control was spotty. He opened the inning with a four-pitch walk to Andrew Stevenson and gave up a single to Matt Reynolds. Ender Inciarte gunned down Stevenson at third for the first out.

Defense would bail out Teheran again afterward. He walked Rafael Bautista before inducing a fly out to right on Chris Dominguez. Nick Markakis threw out Reynolds at home for the double play.

Teheran said he plans to use his change-up more this season. He thought his change-up and slider were acceptable on Monday, and they’ll continue to be the focus of his spring. The former he intends to use more in 2018 to get ahead in counts.

“Some things to work on, like everybody,” catcher Tyler Flowers said of Teheran’s performance. “First time out, I thought it was actually pretty good. Command wasn’t great, but Julio with his makeup and everything out there, he found a way to get strikes, get some outs. Good defensive plays behind him, that always helps. 

“Couple things to work on, obviously. All in all, he said he felt pretty good. That’s the major thing right now.”

Teheran was plagued by inconsistency and home runs in 2017. He surrendered 31 long balls, tied for 10th most in the league. His ERA sat at 5.02 on Aug. 19.

He closed the season on a strong note, allowing three or fewer runs in six of his last seven starts. The lone poor outing came in his final start: five runs over six innings in a 7-1 loss to the Marlins on Sept. 28.

If nothing else, the Braves are banking on Teheran’s ability to eat innings. He’s exceeded 185 innings in each of the past six seasons. 

Teheran is perhaps the only known commodity in what’s expected to be a young rotation. Among other rotation locks, Mike Foltynewicz has yet to prove he can carry a heavy workload and Brandon McCarthy has battled injuries.

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