Fernandez could provide the Braves their toughest challenge to date

This year’s schedule has been kind via the fact that the Braves have consistently missed an opposing team’s ace.  They did not oppose Clayton Kershaw in the seven games against the Dodgers and they squared off against the injured Matt Harvey in just one of the 19 games they will play against the Mets.

The Braves have also somehow missed Jose Fernandez in each of the first 12 games played against the Marlins this year.  But this run of good fortune will expire tonight when Fernandez opposes Julio Teheran in a much-anticipated rookie matchup that should create genuine excitement.

Well, at least amongst the fans.

“I’m kind of upset the Marlins haven’t shut him down yet,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Fernandez, who’s approaching an innings limit and will likely make one more start after Friday. “I’m going to have to call [Marlins owner] Jeffrey Loria and tell him it’s a good time to shut down Fernandez.”

While the Braves understandably would like to avoid being subjected to Fernandez’s electric fastball and nasty slider, fans should savor every opportunity to watch this energetic 21-year-old phenom, who has arguably been the NL’s top pitcher not named Kershaw or Harvey.

Taking full advantage of the exposure he does not receive while pitching in Miami, Fernandez was simply dominant when he made his first All-Star Game appearance in July.   During the 13-pitch perfect inning he completed that night, he retired two former American League MVPs  —  Miguel Cabrera and Dustin Pedroia  —  and Chris Davis, who is a top candidate for the award this year.

Fernandez ranks among the top four National League pitchers in ERA (2.30), opponent’s batting average (.188) and Fielding-Independent Pitching (2.64), strikeouts per nine innings (9.73) and strikeouts per batter faced (.272).

In the 15 starts he has made dating back to June 1, Fernandez has posted a 1.52 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .167 with a .238 on-base percentage.  His ERA and opponent’s batting average rank as the best marks produced by any Major League starter during this span.  His on-base percentage allowed ranks second only to Kershaw (.236).

Not bad for a guy who had not pitched above the Class A-Advanced level before this season.

To get a better understanding of Fernandez and how he escaped Cuba, check out this story written in July by my MLB.com colleague Anthony Castrovince.

Since allowing one run or less in each of his first four starts after the All-Star break, Teheran has allowed four runs in two of his past three starts.  Sandwiched between these two outings was the six-scoreless inning effort he produced against the Nationals on April 18.

The 155 innings Teheran has completed this professional-high season total he worked while combining for 151 innings with Atlanta and Triple-A Gwinnett in 2011.  But with a month remaining in the season, the Braves may try to stick to their plan of skipping him at least once in September.

The plan to provide extra rest to all of their starters would have been much easier to exercise if Brandon Beachy had not sidelined with right elbow inflammation.  But the Braves may still be able to do this by potentially using potential September roster additions  — Freddy Garcia or David Hale  —  to make a couple starts.

Odds and ends:  Accounting for each of the game’s played during this week’s three-game sweep of the Indians, the Braves improved to 20-42 when scoring three runs or less.   They were 11-36 in these games through July 23.

Atlanta’s pitching staff leads the Majors with a 3.17 ERA.   The staff ranks ninth with  3.76 road ERA.  But it’s league-leading 2.58 ERA is a half a run better than every other staff, minus the Pirates (2.88).

The Braves will likely be without Justin Upton tonight while he rests the bruised left hand he suffered courtesy of Ubaldo Jimenez’s 92-mph fastball last night.  But Upton is expected to return to the lineup during this weekend’s series.

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