With runners at second and third in the eighth inning of the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, Mets manager Terry Collins attempted to preserve his team’s one-run advantage by intentionally walking Freddie Freeman. It was a decision that would have been made by virtually any other manager with a pulse or at least some knowledge of what most any other Braves player has done with runners in scoring position this season.
“He’s red hot,” Collins said between Tuesday’s games. “As we saw (with his walk-off home run on Monday night), the last three games they’ve won, they’ve won them with him, so he wasn’t going to do it today.”
Given what we have seen, it should not be long before most managers and pitchers take this approach and take the bat out of Freeman’s hands whenever possible. Yes, it has seemed impossible to walk Freeman with any kind of regularity. But the Mets managed to do so as Freeman matched a career high by drawing three walks (including another of the intentional variety) in Tuesday’s nightcap.
With simply a quick glance, one could surmise Freeman miraculously drew four walks in his final six plate appearances of the doubleheader. He had drawn a total of three walks in the 99 plate appearances that preceded this span.
But this was not a miracle, a coincidence or simply a product of the effectively wild performance Mets phenom Zack Wheeler produced while making his Major League debut in the second game. It is simply something the Braves and Freeman might have to get used to whenever teams are tempted to simply give Freeman first base.
The Braves went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 runners during Tuesday’s nightcap. B.J. Upton was responsible for stranding six of those runners as he went hitless in three at-bats he recorded immediately following the three two-out walks issued to Freeman.
Upton has shown some signs of encouragement as he has batted .232 (12-for-52) with four homers a .344 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage in the 17 games he has played in June. But he has also continued to struggle in key situations, as he has recorded just three hits in 17 at-bats with runners in scoring position this month.
Given he had just two hits in the 32 at-bats he compiled during April and May with runners in scoring position, this a slight improvement. But this was certainly not what the Braves envisioned when they gave Upton a five-year, $75.25 million contract in November.
Nor did the Braves envision going through their first 72 games with both Upton brothers, Brian McCann and Dan Uggla all hitting below .200 with runners in scoring position.
Despite the fact Freeman ranks third in the Majors with a .448 batting average with RISP, the Braves rank third-to-last in the Majors with their .226 batting average with RISP.
If you take away what Freeman (26-for-58) and Jordan Schafer (.292, 7-for-24) have done in these situations, the Braves have hit .192 (83-for-492) with RISP.
Here is what the Braves’ four highest-paid players are hitting with RISP: McCann (.179, 5-for-28); Justin Upton (.156, 7-for-45); Uggla (.133, 6-for-45) and B.J. Upton (.102, 5-for-49).
Alex Avila (.091, 4-for-44) and Mike Moustakas (.061, 3-for-49) are the only Major Leaguers who have tallied at least 30 at-bats with RISP and recorded a lower batting average than B.J. Upton.
This is a subject we touched on less than two weeks ago while the Braves were in Los Angeles playing the Dodgers. But as long as some of these numbers remain the same, you have to wonder how many more managers and pitchers are simply not going to give Freeman a chance to beat them.
The Braves placed Evan Gattis on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday morning with a right oblique strain. Infielder Tyler Pastornicky has been recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett to fill Gattis’ roster spot.
Gattis played the catcher’s position entirety of Monday night’s win over the Mets. When the rain delayed game concluded around 1:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday, the Braves did not reveal Gattis had suffered an injury. This transaction was announced approximately eight hours later.
With Gattis sidelined, the Braves lose a significant presence on their bench. The 26-year-old catcher has gone 6-for-8 with four home runs, a double and two walks in 10 pinch hit plate appearances this season. He has recorded just one hit in the 25 at-bats he has had while in the starting lineup dating back to May 31.
Gerald Laird will once again become Brian McCann’s primary backup while Gattis is sidelined. Laird has seen very limited playing time while serving as Atlanta’s third catcher for most of the past month.
Pastornicky has hit .309 with four home runs and a .780 OPS in 57 games with Gwinnett . This is his second promotion to the Major League level this season.
Evan Gattis has homered in four of the first nine pinch-hit plate appearances of his career. If he maintains this pace and records a pinch-hit appearance in each of Atlanta’s remaining 97 games, he will end this year with 57 home runs, a total that would include the 10 homers he has already hit in non pinch-hit appearances.
While this projection is ridiculous, so too has been everything Gattis has already done as a pinch hitter this season.
With his three-run home run in the four-run ninth inning that capped Monday night’s 7-6 loss to the Padres, Gattis tied the Atlanta record Tommy Gregg set when he recorded four pinch-hit home runs in 1990. Gregg needed 51 pinch-hit at-bats to record this total. Gattis has needed just eight.
The Major League record for pinch-hit home runs in a season is seven. The Dodgers’ Dave Hansen set the record in the 54 pinch-hit at-bats he compiled in 2000. Former Brave Craig Wilson matched the mark during the 34 pinch-hit at-bats he recorded for the Pirates one year later.
Through the first nine pinch-hit plate appearances of his career, Gattis has gone 6-for-8 with four home runs, a double and a walk. In other words, he has not recorded a hit or drawn a walk in just two of these plate appearances. In one of those instances, he still reached first base courtesy of an error charged to Arizona shortstop Didi Gregorious.
So Gattis has actually reached base on a hit, walk or error in eight of his first nine pinch-hit appearances.
Gattis has also driven in seven of the 11 runners that have been on base during his eight pinch-hit at-bats. One of those 11 runners (Dan Uggla), advanced to second base on the go-ahead two-run double Gattis hit against the Mets on May 24. Another (Ramiro Pena) advanced to second base on Gregorious’ error in the eighth inning of a May 15 loss to the D-backs.
So Gattis has stranded just two of the 11 runners that have been on base during his first eight pinch-hit at-bats. The one walk he drew as a pinch hitter was the intentional pass the Pirates issued to load the bases with two outs in the eighth inning of Atlanta’s 10-inning victory on June 4.
While Gattis’ pinch-hit exploits already border on the insane, they serve as just a portion of the incredible production he has already provided during his rookie season. Through the first 156 at-bats of his career, the 26-year-old catcher has batted .263 with 14 home runs, 37 RBIs and a .928 OPS.
Gattis’ days as an everyday member of Atlanta’s starting lineup essentially ended when Jason Heyward returned from the disabled list on May 17. He has recorded just 41 at-bats in the 24 games the Braves have since played.
Still Gattis enters Tuesday night tied for the team lead in home runs with Justin Upton, who has gone deep twice since totaling 12 homers in April. Gattis’ 37 RBIs rank second on the team, just six behind Freddie Freeman’s leading total.
Gattis has homered once every 11.14 at-bats and he has driven in a run once every 4.22 at-bats. If he had enough at-bats to qualify, this home run percentage would place him in front of Chris Davis’ Major League leading mark (11.40). Gattis’ RBI percentage would rank fourth in the Majors, trailing the marks of Miguel Cabrera (3.61), Paul Goldschmidt (4.00) and Troy Tulowitzki (4.14).
In the process of producing these eye-opening numbers, Gattis has managed to make his improbable story that much more incredible.
It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if umpire CB Bucknor had not botched this call in the top of the the 10th inning of Friday night’s 10-inning loss to the Dodgers. Had Bucknor correctly called Justin Upton safe, the Braves would have had runners on the corners and Freddie Freeman coming to the plate looking for his fourth hit of the night.
“There is nobody else on this team we want to come up to the plate right there,” Upton said.
Upton’s expression extends beyond the fact that Freeman has hit .357 with a 1.006 OPS in his last 17 games. Freeman also leads the Braves in batting average with runners in scoring position and it ain’t even close.
Freeman has batted .467 (21-for-45) with runners in scoring position. Chris Johnson ranks second on the team in this category with a .273 (9-for-33) mark. The next runners-up include Brian McCann (.238, 5-for-21) Jordan Schafer (.238, 5-for-21), Andrelton Simmons (.234 11-for-47), Evan Gattis (.231 9-for-39) and Jason Heyward (.222 4-for-18).
And that concludes the list of Braves who have batted above .200 with runners in scoring position through the season’s first 61 games. As you might have noticed this list did not include Dan Uggla or either of the Upton brothers — the three right-handed sluggers who account for approximately one-third of the team’s payroll
If you got squeamish watching Joe Theismann break his leg or Marcus Lattimore blow out his knee, I suggest you turn your head and pass over this next part that shows exactly what Uggla and the Uptons have done with runners in scoring position this year.
Justin Upton (.171, 6-for-35) — Remember when Justin hit 12 home runs and still totaled just 19 RBIs in April? The belief was his RBI total would soar once the guys in front of him started getting on base. Well, he hit .176 (3-for-17) with runners in scoring position in April. Since then, he has hit .167 (3-for-18) in these situations. This is certainly not the kind of consistency he is seeking.
Justin’s recent struggles have extended beyond the run-producing situations. Since hitting his game-winning grand slam against the Dodgers on May 17, he has hit .186 (13-for-70) with one double, no home runs and 29 strikeouts.
Dan Uggla (.128, 5-for-39) – Uggla’s two-out single in Friday’s fourth inning was actually his third hit in his past 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position. He had recorded just two hits in the 24 at-bats he recorded with runners in scoring position before May 24.
B.J. Upton (.073 3-for-41) — Yes we have seen some recent signs of encouragement as B.J has recorded a hit in four of his past seven games and produced better-looking at-bats this month. He produced a walk-off single in last Saturday’s win over the Nationals and hit a game-tying home run in Tuesday’s win over the Pirates. But there have been a plethora of squandered opportunities as he has recorded the team’s third-highest total of at-bats with runners in scoring position. He has also struck out 18 times in the 41 at-bats he has recorded in these situations.
The Braves and Cardinals entered Thursday with the National League’s top two records. But from an offensive perspective the two teams have accomplished this in contrasting fashion.
The Cardinals lead the Majors with a .342 (180-for-527) batting average with runners in scoring position. The Braves rank third-to-last with their .233 (101-for-433) mark. Along with making the most of its opportunities, St. Louis has also compiled nearly 100 more at-bats with runners in scoring position than the Braves.
While the Cardinals frustrate opposing pitcher with a flurry of jabs, the Braves have done much of their damage with knockout punches. Atlanta (81) has hit 29 more home runs than St. Louis (52).
As this season has progressed, the Braves’ offense has continued to be hard to evaluate. They lead the National League with 552 strikeouts and have also drawn the second-most walks (212). They rank fifth in runs — the category that obviously has the most significant offensive influence on runs.
While the offense garnered all of the attention heading into the season, pitching has been the key to the success the Braves have produced so far this season. Their 3.22 team ERA ranks just behind St. Louis’ league-leading 3.16 mark.
The Braves’ pitching staff should become even stronger when Brandon Beachy returns from Tommy John surgery on June 18. But if the Braves are going to make a serious push into October, they will have to reach a point where they can consistently rely on someone other than Freeman to take advantage of run-producing opportunities.
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.
As the Braves recorded season highs in runs and hits (16) during Thursday night’s 11-3 win over the Blue Jays, they utilized a starting lineup that was absent Jason Heyward and their two highest-paid position players – B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla.
After the game, manager Fredi Gonzalez said, “We’ll see” when asked if he would be tempted to continue using the same lineup. But by the time he was done with his postgame session, he made sure to say that he is confident Heyward, Upton and Uggla will turn things around and maximize the potential of the Braves’ offense.
“I’m sure that come the end of June or July, or whatever it is, the team that’s supposed to be out there, the guys that are supposed to be out there, will be out there, because you’ve got to believe the back of the baseball cards, and they’re good players,” Gonzalez said. “It may not even be the end of June, it may be the middle of June or five days from now, who knows?”
Or it might be tonight.
While Upton might be given another day to fix the flawed mechanics and approach that have led to his Major League-worst .145 batting average, there is no way Uggla and Heyward will be left out of tonight’s lineup against Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg. Uggla has hit .478 (11-for-23) with two homers and two doubles in his career against Strasburg. Heyward has seven hits in 14 career at-bats against the former top overall selection.
Count me among those who have not been overly concerned with what Heyward has done since missing nearly a month after undergoing an appendectomy. He has batted .195 (8-for-41) with two doubles in the 12 games he has played since coming back from his lengthy absence. He has also compiled a .353 on-base percentage and hit the ball the opposite way much more frequently than he had before he was forced to undergo the emergency surgery.
Before going hitless in his past 12 at-bats, Heyward had hit .276 in the first 29 at-bats he had recorded since coming off the disabled list. Like there was little reason to get overly-excited about those 29 at-bats, there is not any reason to get concerned the past 12. If he continues to hit the ball to all fields and gets on base frequently, his numbers will be there in the end.
About the only thing we have definitely learned about Uggla over the past few years is that it is unwise to predict what to make of one his inspiring surges or extended slumps. Remember this is the guy who hit .173 during his first 86 games with the Braves and then spent the next 33 games setting an Atlanta record hitting streak. After hitting .276 through his first 55 games last year, he batted .185 over the 99 games that followed.
Through his first 22 games this season, Uggla batted .160 with four homers and a .625 OPS. In the 26 games that have followed, he has batted .207 with six home runs and a .765 OPS.
Uggla does have five home runs in the 61 at-bats has totaled over his past 18 games. But he has also hit .164 with a .288 on-base percentage during this stretch.
From July 4, 2011 until June 5, 2012, Uggla went through a 131-game stretch in which he hit .289 with 34 homers and a .934 OPS. In the 147 games that have followed, he has batted .185 with 19 homers and a .664 OPS.
If these struggles continue, the Braves might eventually have to attempt to cut their losses by finding a team that is willing to pay at least a portion of the remainder of Uggla’s five-year, $62 million contract, which runs through the end of the 2015 season. But now is not the time. <p>
Uggla has hit 10 home runs this year and he led the National League in walks last year. It is not like he is a complete disaster at the plate. Just a year ago, he was performing exactly how the Braves envisioned when they gave him the big contract.
The Braves just have to hope this proves to be the third consecutive season in which Uggla’s early-season production contrasts what he does in the season’s second half.
There actually might be reason for the Braves to be even more concerned about Upton, who is just two months into the franchise record five-year, $75.25 million contract he signed in November. Upton’s .146 batting average and .478 OPS are the lowest marks compiled this season by any qualified Major League player.
Upton has fought frustration for more than a month. We saw some of it unleashed on Wednesday night, when he bounced his batting helmet off the ground. But to his credit, he has managed this difficult situation better than many others might have.
Through his first 19 games, Upton hit .160 with three home runs and a .549 OPS. In the 26 games that have followed he has batted .133 with one home run and 36 strikeouts in 83 at-bats. <p>
There were some encouraging signs last week when he notched a two-hit game against the Twins and then homered during the next day’s series finale. But he has played just three games since then and in the process, he has struck out seven times in 10 at-bats.
About halfway through the Grapefruit League season, Justin Upton told his brother how impressed he was with hitting coach Greg Walker.
Now, B.J. can only hope he too will eventually benefit from Walker’s direction. But like everybody else, he can’t assume everything is going to magically change overnight.
Before losing Eric O’Flaherty to a season-ending elbow surgery, Fredi Gonzalez was already pestering the Braves front office about the possibility of bringing Alex Wood to the Majors. This was just another example of what a manager does after he gets his first look at some hot shot prospect for the first time during Spring Training.
General manager Frank Wren and assistant GM Bruce Manno repeatedly told Gonzalez to be patient while Wood continued his development as a starting pitcher with Double-A Mississippi. This was just another example of what a front office does in the best interest of a young prospect’s future.
After Gonzalez’s questions about “Alex Wood” started to near the pestering stage, the Braves front office began referring to the left-handed pitcher as “Robert Wood” – his real name is Robert Alexander Wood — in the reports provided to the Major League coaching staff.
It did not take Gonzalez long to figure out this humorous response made by the front office. While the first name might have been altered, the numbers and words attached provided an accurate description of the young pitcher he was hoping to add to his bullpen.
When it was learned O’Flaherty would need to undergo Tommy John surgery, Wren indicated Wood would not be rushed to Atlanta to fix the bullpen. Instead the plan would be to allow the young southpaw to continue developing as a starting pitcher in Double-A Mississippi’s rotation.
It seemed to be the right thing to do. It would also be a challenge to stick with this plan while crossing fingers and stressing through late-inning situations that O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Jordan Walden were not available to handle.
Incredibly, the undermanned and injury-depleted bullpen has cost the Braves just one of the past 11 games. But things could have been much different if Evan Gattis, Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman not provided some clutch hits that calmed the enhanced stress Gonzalez has been feeling during the late innings the past couple of weeks.
When a comebacker off his left calf limited Kris Medlen to just two innings in last night’s loss to the Blue Jays, the Braves were forced to tax their undermanned bullpen. This led to a postgame meeting, which in turn led to the revelation that Robert Alexander Wood will be in Atlanta’s bullpen tonight.
By now, most of you have likely heard about Wood’s unorthodox delivery which leads opposing batters to see a whole lot of knees and elbows while attempting to pick up the southpaw’s mid-90s fastball that has impressive sink.
Wood has gone 4-2 with a 1.26 ERA in 10 starts with Double-A Mississippi this year. The 22-year-old left-hander has recorded 57 strikeouts and issued 15 walks in 57 innings. He has limited opponents to a .195 batting average and produce a 1.63 groundball-to-flyball ratio.
Not bad for a guy who was concluding his successful collegiate career at the University of Georgia around this time last year.
Still two games shy of completing the first third of this year’s schedule, it might be a little too early to make much of the frequency in which some of the Braves are hitting a home runs. But it does not hurt to at least point out the pace that Evan Gattis and Justin Upton have set through the season’s first two months.
Entering the United States portion of this week’s four-game stretch against the Blue Jays, Gattis has homered once every 11.08 at-bats and Upton has gone deep once every 12.57 at-bats. Even though his sample size is much smaller, we’ll still mention that with Tuesday’s two-homer game, Brian McCann has homered once every 9.50 at-bats.
Among qualified players, Chris Davis (10.59) and Bryce Harper (12.50) are the only Major Leaguers who have homered more frequently per at-bat than Upton. Gattis falls approximately 10 plate appearances shy of being listed among the qualified players. His figure would place him right behind Davis’ league-leading percentage.
A list of the top five HR/AB ratios produced by Braves players in a season:
Hank Aaron (10.53) 1971
Andruw Jones (11.49) 2005
Eddie Mathews (11.90) 1954
Joe Adcock (11.95) 1956
Mathews (12.17) 1955
There have already been a number of noteworthy 10-game stretches this season. There was the perfect 10-game stretch that helped the Braves begin this season with a 12-1 record. Then there were the two disappointing 10-game road trips that followed. But on the heels of that last 10-game journey out west has been a remarkable 10-game stretch in which the Braves miraculously were not doomed by their injury-depleted, short-handed bullpen.
The Braves have won eight of their last 10 games and the only game their bullpen blew during this stretch came during Sunday night’s loss to the Mets. Sure the offense has led the way with a number of late-inning home runs that have erased deficits. But the bullpen has done its part. Or maybe more appropriately, it has done much more than could have been envisioned while going through a 10-game stretch without Eric O’Flaherty and Jordan Walden.
When the Braves announced they were going to a six-man pen on May 17, they did so by revealing Walden was going on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. One day later, they learned O’Flaherty would likely need to undergo the Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgical procedure that was indeed performed a few days later.
With potential disaster staring them in the face, the Braves opted to stick with the six-man bullpen as opposed to make a much tougher roster decisions. Many of the options were the same as they had been a few weeks earlier when it was time to begin evaluating how to make room for Jason Heyward to return from the disabled list.
But the Braves definitely aren’t sending Gattis to the Minors now and it still does not seem like they have any desire to trade Reed Johnson. If they can get a valuable reliever in return, there is still a chance they could deal Gerald Laird. But the club understands the tremendous value Laird has brought as a mentor to Julio Teheran and Gattis. There has been plenty of indication they would like him back to serve as Gattis’ backup next year.
If Laird and Johnson do indeed stick around once the Braves return to a seven-man pen, there is always a chance a roster space could be opened for Walden by placing a position player on the disabled list. Then of course, the Braves will have to make another tough roster decision when Brandon Beachy is ready to return from Tommy John surgery in a couple of weeks.
The decision regarding Beachy will obviously be influenced by how they make room for him in the starting rotation. Right now we can ask all of the questions: Could Tim Hudson benefit from a rest while on the DL? Would it make sense to move Kris Medlen to the pen? Will they try to regulate Julio Teheran’s workload? Could they look to trade Paul Maholm?
While there is a chance Beachy could return to the rotation in a little more than two weeks, it is still too early to know exactly what the Braves will do to make room for him.
But like these recent roster decisions regarding going from and back to a seven-man bullpen, this is another good problem to have.
After Mike Minor produced his latest pitching gem in Saturday night’s win over the Mets, a fan asked if I agreed with his assessment that Mike Minor has been one of Major League Baseball’s top 15 pitchers since last year’s All-Star break?
My Twitter response was, “that is short-changing” what Minor has done over the course of the past 11 months. In fact, the results provide every reason to argue the left-hander has been one of baseball’s top five starting pitchers since exiting June with a 6.20 ERA.
In the 25 starts Minor has made dating back to July 5, Minor has gone 13-6 with a 2.32 ERA. He has limited opponents to a .196 batting average and a .243 on-base percentage.
No other Major League pitcher who has made at least 25 starts during this span has held opponents to a lower batting average. Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw is the only other pitcher who has posted a lower ERA (1.99) and limited opponents to a lower batting average (.187).
Kershaw’s 2.70 career ERA is the best among all starting pitchers who have completed at least 1,000 innings during the live ball era.
So within a span of 11 months, Minor has gone from being on the brink of going back to the Minors to being in the same category as one of this generation’s top starting pitchers.
Courtesy of the decisive blast he sent into the left field seats with two outs in the fifth inning of Saturday’s win, Minor can also say he has hit just as many home runs as Kershaw has during this span.
Minor’s first career home run set the stage of Minor to also deliver last night’s funniest quote while explaining the aggressive approach he took while pitching with a strong wind at his back.
“As you could see the outfielder would take one or two steps back and then sprint forward because of the wind,” Minor said. “I noticed that early on. So I just decided to attack them because if they’re going to try to get it out, they’ve got to have power like me.”
When Julio Teheran was mediocre in this season’s first three starts, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he would be patient with him just like he had been with Minor and Beachy, whose only real struggles as a rookie were his inability to consistently get past the sixth inning.
As Teheran has steadily improved and become one of Atlanta’s most reliable starters over the past month, Gonzalez has said the young pitcher is taking the same path previously navigated by Minor and Beachy. But in all fairness, Teheran is making his strides at a much younger age than either of the other two aforementioned pitchers.
Teheran has compiled a 2.41 ERA in his five past starts leading into tonight’s matchup against the Mets. The 22-year-old hurler has completed at least seven innings three times during this span and was two outs shy of his first career shutout during Monday night’s game against the Twins.
It will be interesting to see how Teheran performs coming off the career-high 123 pitches he threw against the Twins. But he does have the benefit of pitching with one extra day of rest.
When Teheran allowed four runs in the first two innings of his start against the Nationals on April 12, a fan asked if I thought he could turn things around like Minor did last year. My immediate response was that he was still relying too heavily on his fastball and did not have enough command of his offspeed pitches to turn things around without enduring at least another month or two of growing pains.
Over the past month Teheran has proven me wrong. While his changeup is still a work in progress, he has certainly found more comfort with his slider and curveball.
Here is a breakdown of the percentage of fastballs (2-seam and 4-seam) Teheran has thrown in each of his starts this year.
April 6 vs. Cubs: 69.3 percent
April 12 at Nationals: 77.3 percent
April 18 at Pirates: 63.2 percent
April 23 at Rockies 72.2 percent
April 29 vs. Nationals 63.7 percent
May 9 at Giants 72 percent (threw a season-high 10 changeups in this game)
May 14 at D-backs 67 percent
May 20 vs. Twins 64.2 percent
Game situations and specific matchups are obviously going to influence the percentage of fastballs and offspeed pitches thrown in particular games. But the numbers above and the thoughts expressed by catcher Gerald Laird over the past couple of weeks indicate Teheran has already made significant strides in his attempt to prove why he was considered one of the game’s top pitching prospects just two years ago.
Julio Teheran had not allowed a hit since the fourth inning and he escaped Monday night’s eighth inning having retired each of the previous seven Twins batters he had faced. Giving him a chance to notch his first shutout and complete game seemed to be more appealing than dipping into an injury-depleted, short-handed bullpen.
Still it was somewhat surprising to see Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez send Teheran back out for the ninth inning having already thrown 109 pitches — one shy of the highest total he compiled during his Minor League career. Sure, he was pitching with an extra day of rest and will have another extra day of rest before he starts against the Mets on Sunday night in New York.
But going the distance has become somewhat foreign for the Braves, who have notched the third-fewest complete games (16) in the Majors since the start of the 2008 season.
With that being said, this trend started to change last year when the Braves recorded five complete games, their highest total since 2006. Braves general manager Frank Wren has urged Minor League managers to push starting pitchers a little bit harder over the past few years and Gonzalez has started to get the kind of pitchers who are capable of going the distance.
Gonzalez’s hope to give Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin a chance to rest on Monday evaporated when Teheran surrendered a one-out home run to Josh Willingham and then exited when Trevor Plouffe exited with one out in the ninth inning. But the Braves could reap future benefits from the decision to send Teheran back out for the ninth inning.
This certainly showed Teheran the club was confident in his ability to finish what he started. At the same time, it gave him a chance to experience the extra adrenaline that comes with this situation without having to first experience this in a one or two-run game.
Teheran ended up throwing 123 pitches before exiting to a standing ovation. That pitch count ranks as the highest total posted by a Braves pitcher since Kenshin Kawakami threw 125 pitches over seven innings in a 10-inning win over the Dodgers on Aug. 8, 2009.
Gonzalez said sent Teheran out for the ninth inning with the plan to not allow him to throw more than 125 pitches.
Here are the top 10 pitch counts for Braves pitchers since the start of the start of the 2007 season:
125 – Kawakami (7 innings) at Dodgers Aug. 8, 2009
123 — Teheran (8.1 innings) vs. Twins May 20, 2013
122 — John Smoltz (8 innings) vs. Nationals April 12, 2007
122 — Tim Hudson (6.2 innings) vs. Phillies May 25, 2007
122 – Hudson (8 innings) at Brewers May 27, 2008
122 — Brandon Beachy (9 innings) vs. Marlins May 17, 2012
121 — Javier Vazquez (7.2 innings) vs. Red Sox June 27, 2009
121 — Tommy Hanson (5.1 innings) at D-backs June 10, 2010
120 – Hudson ( 7.2 innings) vs. Brewers Sept. 21, 2007
120 – Jair Jurrjens (6.2 innings) at Pirates April 17, 2009
120 – Vazquez (5.1 innings) at Marlins Sept. 2, 2009