Teheran Makes Rotation Choices Tough For Atlanta

Julio Teheran came within four outs of a no-hitter Wednesday, and may have forced the Braves to keep him in the bigs. (USA Today Sports)

Julio Teheran came within four outs of a no-hitter Wednesday, and may have forced the Braves to keep him in the bigs. (USA Today Sports)

Julio Teheran is making things difficult for the Braves. After Teheran struggled through his first three starts of the season, in which he served up five home runs and allowed 13 runs in 16 innings, the course looked clear: ride out Teheran’s starts until Brandon Beachy’s return from Tommy John surgery on June 18, then send the 44th-best prospect (per Baseball America) back to Triple-A for much-needed seasoning.

Things aren’t so clear any more. Teheran carried a no-hitter through 7 2/3 innings against Pittsburgh on Wednesday in the best start of his career: eight shutout innings, one lone hit, two walks, two hit batters and 11 strikeouts.

Teheran has been nasty since his fourth start, a seven-inning, one-run affair April 23 at Coors Field. Since then, Teheran hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in a start, and he has thrown at least 5 1/3 innings in all eight. Over 55 innings, he owns a spectacular 2.13 ERA backed up by 43 strikeouts and just eight walks.

This is what Teheran was supposed to be last year. In 2010, at age 19, he posted a 2.59 ERA and struck out 159 in 142 2/3 innings between Low-A, High-A and Double-A. He didn’t skip a beat as a 20-year-old at Triple-A Gwinnett — he struck out 122 and recorded a 2.55 ERA over 144 2/3 innings. The average hitter he faced in the International League was six years older than him.

Teheran came into spring training in 2012 looking like a lock for the fifth starter job. The Braves gave him every chance to show he deserved a shot at the major leagues. He responded by throwing nine home runs and eight walks against 10 strikeouts in five appearances. He finished with a 9.37 ERA and the boot back to Gwinnett. The collapse continued: Teheran finished with a 5.08 ERA in his second swing through Triple-A. He allowed 13 more home runs than the previous season and struck out 25 fewer batters in two extra starts.

The lesson? Never give up on top-tier stuff, especially when its owner is as young as Teheran was in 2012. At age 21, the Braves didn’t just ask him to contribute, they asked him to keep learning. Between mechanical tweaks, the weight of expectations, and youth, a down year for Teheran comes into perspective. These things happen.

Braves general manager Frank Wren took a trip down to the Dominican Republic in December to check out some of his players in the Dominican Winter League, including Teheran. The Colombian pitched well for Licey, his Winter League team — he struck out 24 and allowed a 3.23 ERA over 30 2/3 innings — but more important was the flow Teheran discovered (or perhaps rediscovered) in his pitching motion:

“We wanted him to get back to a more natural delivery where he’s not thinking about his mechanics, and I think he’s accomplished that,” Wren said. “His mechanics were very good. He looked much more natural and like he did two years ago.”

The Braves are now presented with a problem quite familiar for the franchise: too many starting pitchers. With Teheran’s season ERA down to 3.30 following Wednesday’s gem, the Braves now have four starters with ERAs under 3.70 — Paul Maholm, Kris Medlen and Mike Minor along with Teheran — and the Opening Day starter, Tim Hudson. In two weeks, they’ll add Brandon Beachy, the owner of a 3.07 ERA over 237 2/3 career innings and a 2.00 ERA in 13 starts last season.

Even with Teheran’s hot streak, he’s probably the easiest to demote. He has options remaining and it would allow all the senior rotation members to keep their jobs while Teheran stays stretched out at Gwinnett. But Teheran simply might be too good right now to demote, and his upside is the highest of anybody in the organization, much less the current rotation.

If it isn’t Teheran, and since elder statesman Tim Hudson isn’t going anywhere despite his 4.80 ERA, the answer is probably Kris Medlen. As anti-meritocratic as it might seem — Medlen owns a 1.96 ERA with 138 strikeouts over his last 24 starts, dating back to last July — there are serious questions about Medlen’s ability to stay healthy as a starter. Medlen has spent his career bouncing back and forth between starting and relieving due to these durability concerns, and he’s already missed a full season due to Tommy John surgery back in 2011.

The best argument for moving Medlen, however, at least in terms of the 2013 Braves winning baseball games, is his experience and success as a reliever. In 129 2/3 career relief innings, Medlen owns a 2.92 ERA with a 3.0 strikeouts to walks ratio. He has allowed just five home runs as a reliever against 27 as a starter in twice as many innings. The Braves have had some tough injuries to relievers — Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty in particular — and so Medlen might look mighty nice next to Craig Kimbrel and Jordan Walden in the bullpen.

Either way, the Braves win here. Teheran’s struggles in 2012 made it look like there was a pitching shortage in Atlanta coming into 2013. When Beachy makes his return in two weeks, the Braves will have more pitching than they know what to do with. In Atlanta? That’s just baseball season.

23 thoughts on “Teheran Makes Rotation Choices Tough For Atlanta

  1. Pingback: URL Weaver: Making History | Getting Blanked | Blogs | theScore.com

  2. The analysis is correct. Teheran must stay put, way too much upside. Also, pitching great since that Coors outing. Perhaps the best stuff on staff too. Medlin is good for Bullpen as that role is needed and can start again if anyone , including Maholm, slips up.

  3. Good article. I expect the scenario where Medlen moves to the bullpen to happen; this staff is too good to have one member sent to AAA and the bullpen is vulnerable enough where another addition is plausible.

  4. Very good article. Since the bats all seem to be coming around, the only concern we have is the sporadic injuries popping up in the bullpen. Your proposal here is the obvious cure. Exciting times in Atlanta!!!

  5. I don’t think there is any way Medlen goes to the bullpen. He has been way too good in the starting role. I think trading Maholm before the deadline is more likely.

  6. “Julio Teheran came within four outs of a no-hitter Wednesday, and may have forced the Braves to keep him in the bigs. (USA Today Sports)”

    Whoever wrote this for USA sports should be laughed out of the biz. “May have”? hah Teheran has EASILY been the Braves number 2 starter for weeks.

    Trade Milholm. If his command isn’t perfect he gets clobbered. His “stuff” is not good enough to get away with anything but pinpoint control.

  7. HOw about Beachy to the pen like they did Medlen coming back from surgery. This is only a problem if you make it a problem. Minor and Teheran are top 2 starters with Medlen 3.

  8. I agree with dale, Maholm is so hittable when he doesn’t get the ball exactly where he wants it, if Beachy’s return is successful we will not need him and he has very good trade value, I would try to package him with Uggla for a top tier prospect. Our bullpen is outstanding as it is and we have Pena to play 2B, this team doesn’t need anything except to get rid of some black holes in the line-up, we have better people on the bench waiting for a chance to play.

  9. Can we PLEASE have a print button for these articles so I can read them during my commute? I avoid this site because I never have time to sit while online but would LOVE to be able to print them.

  10. Teheran should stay put I agree, but Medlen as well. Paul Maholm kills lefties, they have two lefties in the pen with Alex Wood and Avilan, but started out with three with Avilan, EOF, and Venters. Maholm could obviously give you long relief if needed also, and they can send David Carpenter to AAA.

  11. Medlen has been a hard luck pitcher this year. I sure wouldn’t send him to the pen. I’d start Beachy in the pen and see what happens with the other starters. It’s a long season and things have a way of working themselves out. Shopping Maholm for some bullpen help wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

  12. Putting Beachy in the pen is a great idea since he will most probably be on an innings limit anyway. And if he has no problems in the pen he should be stretched out and be able to make a spot start and help out anyway in a starting role like other teams do with star caliber players. Over the winter the Braves can evaluate what they have and let players go via free agency (maybe like Hudson as I don’t know his contract status) or trade. But one never has enough quality arms to get thru a full season without an injury cropping up.

  13. Maholm, Bethancourt, Uggla Pastornicky, $5-!0 million and minor league pitching prospect for Profar and minor league catching prospect . Sign McCann to extension and Hudson to two years with club option for second year with buyout. Wood could be ready by 2015. If he’s ready by mid 2014, Hudson could be trade material at trade deadline. Contending teams always looking for short term pitching solutions.
    Keep Schafer and Johnson. I would also keep Laird but wouldn’t be averse to trading him. I like the flexibility it gives Gonzalez at the end of a game when Laird is catching and Gattis and McCann are on the bench for late game pinch hitting. Reduce Mc Cann’s workload during the summer months. With McCann the Braves are a team that can do damage in the playoffs and against American league teams in the Series. The Braves would be better able to withstand BJ and Heyward if they continue to struggle offensively.
    Pitching and defense are above par on the Braves all around the diamond. Bobby Cox won many division titles with Belliard and Lemke not to mention Benedict. BJ is an above average center fielder while Heyward is top flight. Simmons and Profar up the middle would be dynamic. With Freddie at first and Pena as a super utility man (available to man 3rd in the late innings….by the way please sign him to an extension ), the Braves would be formidable in the regular season and the playoffs.

    • yeah im sure the rangers would happily send the #1 prospect in baseball to the braves for a bunch of semi-decent veterans (and cash!!!!) and absolutely no pitching prospects in return… sorry but that was just the stupidest trade proposal ive ever heard

  14. yep I see Beachy starting in the bullpen after his double header start. Hustr like they did with Meds last year for seasoning and got him ready to start. They should be careful early after what happened to Mike Hampton. Haha. Strass

  15. There is another option. Recall last year when Medlin, coming back from Tommy John surgery himself, was used in long relief for the first couple months of the season ostensibly to “stretch his arm out gradually?” Braves management didn’t want to put too much stress on Medlin’s arm too quickly after surgery. Well? Why doesn’t that rationale work equally as well with Beachy? There is no guarantee that Beachy will be effective as a starter immediately upon his return. There is no guarantee that he will be better than Medlin or any of the other starters. Put Beachy in long relief and let him stretch his arm out gradually over the remainder of the season. Next year, Hudson will be gone, and the “problem” will solve itself.

  16. All this talk about moving Teheran or Medlen to the pen or minors in order to bring up Beachy. Why does Beachy have to come up? I like the suggestion of using Beachy in long relief. If not that they should get rid of their worst starter Hudson, if they can find someone to take him.

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  18. I like the article. However, it the organization is going to ever move forward, it must invest in its young talent by leaving them in the rotation. Sorry, Tim Hudson. You might be the senior statesman, but, we’re not in the 1990′s anymore; you’re closing in on 38 and when the offense gives you a lead, you can’t hold it. Do us all a kind gesture, and go to the bullpen and be a mentor to the young talent there so that are more consistent pitchers can get us to the playoffs this year. Besides, you’re not an ACE anymore. It won’t be long before Tim Hudson is working from the bullpen if he wants to keep pitching. Youth is in— senior statesmen isn’t –no matter how well you pitched in your younger years — Hudson isn’t pitching that way anymore. So move over — Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran and Brandon Beachy have arrived!!

  19. Very exciting times! Welcome back, Brandon. Congrats to Kris, Julio, Mike. Time to prepare for a Maholm trade. Need Hudson through this year to mentor the pitching staff, maybe even help Alex Wood, who has been very impressive, into the starting rotation next year, or later this year if we get more injuries. This is taking shape to be the year of the Braves, finally again!

  20. medlen doesnt have bullpen stuff and he’s been a decent starter for the past couple years so i dont think yanking him froom the rotation is such a great idea. either way the braves could probably use any of their starters and still run away with the division cuz the nats and phils are barely treading water, the mets root for the yankees, and the marlins are all wearing bluejays uniforms so there’s really no divisional rivals to be concerned about.