Julio Teheran picked a great time to throw the most dominant – and lengthy – game of his career.
The day before Eric O’Flaherty would become the second Braves reliever to undergo season-ending elbow surgery in a week, Teheran pitched with authority into the ninth inning Monday night to beat the Twins 5-1.
The rookie right-hander didn’t give up a run until his 118th pitch of the night — a Josh Willingham solo home run — when he was a strike and two outs from the first complete game by a Braves pitcher this year.
Teheran had never pitched more than seven innings in 11 career starts. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez gave him one more batter in the ninth — and Trevor Plouffe singled — before Teheran left to a rousing ovation from 20,173 fans at Turner Field.
“I think it was good for him to experience that in the ninth inning,” Gonzalez said. “He had an extra day (rest) coming into that start, and he’ll have an extra day coming out of that start. We took that into consideration. It was good for him to dig deep down inside the gas tank and see if he could do it. By God, he gave it a good shot.”
Teheran had allowed only three hits – all singles – in eight shutout innings on 109 pitches. The most he’d ever thrown in a game was 110 in a complete-game last season for Triple-A Gwinnett. But with the back of the Braves’ bullpen short and closer Craig Kimbrel unavailable after pitching three straight days, Gonzalez gave Teheran a chance at the shutout.
“I was excited to get my first shutout, and I was trying to do what I did the whole game - I just missed that pitch,” said Teheran, who was surprised he got the chance. “I was but I was trying to get out there. I knew I was throwing a shutout and I wanted to get it. Then when they saw my face, that I wanted to go there, they sent me.”
Teheran finished with one run allowed on five hits, a walk and a hit batter in 8 1/3 innings. He threw a career-high 123 pitches. Gonzalez said he would have gone no more than 125.
“You reach a point where you start getting into some areas you don’t want to get into,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez got the final two outs from relievers Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin, who recorded the first save of his career by stranding a pair of runners.
“I didn’t realize it was even official that that was a save,” Gearrin said. “I knew when Craig (Kimbrel) came up to me and congratulated me.”
After coming from behind to beat the Dodgers in three games of a weekend sweep, the Braves took a different approach against the Twins: attack mode.
They jumped on Minnesota starter Kevin Correia with four runs in the first inning, including a three-run homer from Dan Uggla, who snapped an 0-for-11.
“For me to get a homer and drive in some runs – it was huge for me,” said Uggla, who decided to go with a heavier bat and homered for the first time since hitting a pair in Cincinnati May 8. “It was fun, got them early and Julio took care of the rest.”
Teheran was 10 months old the last time the Twins played an official game in Atlanta during the 1991 World Series. (They’ve played exhibition games in 2002 and 2011). On Monday night, at age 22, Teheran had the look of a young pitcher coming into his own.
He won for the third time in his past five starts to move to 3-1 with a 3.99 ERA. After allowing 13 earned runs in 16 innings over his first three starts — all no-decisions — Teheran has a 2.16 ERA over his past five (eight earned runs in 33 1/3 innings.) He has walked only two in his past five starts and struck out 18.
“He’s not one of these kids that just thinks he can throw it by everybody,” Uggla said. “He understands what it is to pitch. And he’s all about learning….He’s really beared down and paid attention to what mistakes he’s been making, and he’s looked pretty good the last four or five starts.”
Teheran didn’t have his change-up working Monday night, so he just went with his curveball as an offspeed pitch instead. Catcher Gerald Laird said Teheran is getting more confident with his two-seamer and it showed. He got 12 groundball outs, including three from five-time All-Star Joe Mauer, who has won three batting titles and entered the game hitting .342, fifth-best in the American League.
“He’s getting more and more confidence in that sinker,” Laird said. “I think that’s the pitch that is taking him to the next level and it’s giving him some quick outs in the game….He’s just hitting his location and trusting his pitches.”