Teheran’s slider was highlighted during Wednesday’s gem
When we got our first look at the updated version of Julio Teheran during his first few Spring Training starts, he was focusing on developing his two-seam fastball, curveball and slider — pitches that he had started to become comfortable with during his successful stint in the Dominican Winter League. For those who might have forgot, he had seemingly grown allergic to throw anything but his four-seam fastball as he posted a 5.08 ERA with Triple-A Gwinnett last year.
After his making his first Grapefruit League start against the Pirates this year, Teheran spoke about his curveball and his slider. Without the benefit of televisions in the press box or a stadium radar gun reading, I really couldn’t have told you which pitches were sliders and which were curves.
Before we went to the clubhouse to speak to Teheran, a scout had told me the curveball was sitting around 71-73 and the slider was around 76-78. Truth be told, with the naked eye, they all looked the same. This obviously led to reason to wonder how much he would be deceiving batters with a couple of breaking balls with similar velocity.
A little more than three months later, that concern seems like ancient history.
Since the end of April, Teheran has found more comfort with his slider, which has steadily gained more life and moved past that stage where it could be confused with the curveball.
But we had not previously seen the slider anywhere near as frequently as we did as Teheran completed his gem against the Pirates on Wednesday afternoon at Turner Field. On his way to recording 11 strikeouts and coming within four outs of a no-hitter, the Braves 22-year-old pitcher threw a season-high 41 sliders, which according to FanGraphs.com had an average velocity of 82 mph.
To give you an idea of how far he has come over the past three months with that pitch alone, Teheran threw a total of 42 sliders in his first three starts of the season and the average velocity was 79.1 mph (data provided by BrooksBaseball.net). The only start in which his slider velocity averaged less than 81 mph since April 29 came during his May 26 outing against the Mets. This was likely a product of the fact he had thrown a career-high 123 pitches in his previous start.
Veteran catcher Gerald Laird deserves credit for the way he has quickly come to understand how to best utilize Teheran’s strengths on any given night. This is certainly not an easy task when working with a young pitcher who has been trying to get a better feel for at least four pitches (curve, slider, change and two-seamer) since the end of last season.
Laird has caught all but two of Teheran’s starts this season. Teheran has allowed more than two runs in just two of his past eight starts. Those just happened to be the two games in which Brian McCann has served as Teheran’s catcher.
Teheran threw a then season-high 28 sliders against the Nationals on April 29 and 23 more against the D-backs on May 14. The only start he made between these two outings occurred against the Giants on May 9, when he threw just two sliders with McCann behind the plate. The second-fewest sliders Teheran has thrown this year is 10, the total he compiled with McCann behind the plate against the Nationals on May 31.
This is not a knock against McCann. Teheran threw higher percentages of changeups in those two outings than he has in any other start this season. But the fact remains Laird has been with Teheran throughout the season and there is certainly reason to expect that he would know him best.
Teheran has compiled a 2.13 ERA in the eight starts he has made dating back to April 23. The only National League pitchers with a better mark during this span are Jeff Locke, Jordan Zimmerman, Clayton Kershaw, Shelby Miller and Mike Leake.
The athletic Teheran also notched his Major League-leading fourth pickoff during Wednesday’s win over the Pirates. No other right-handed pitcher has more than two.
While the Braves have not determined how to fit Brandon Beachy back in their rotation, it became clear a few weeks ago that sending Teheran back to the Minors or to the bullpen is not an option.
Teheran is on pace to complete 194 innings this year. That figure would be just slightly more than what he combined to complete with Gwinnett and then in the Dominican Winter League last year.
If the Braves feel Teheran needs a breather down the stretch, they could always take advantage of an offday by skipping him. But for now, the Braves have no choice but to watch their prized pony continue to develop into a champion thoroughbred.