Braves’ Teheran keeps rolling with 5 hitless innings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – He left without saying anything, but Julio Teheran's performance said plenty.

The Braves right-hander pitched five hitless, scoreless innings against the Cardinals in a 12-3 win Tuesday at Champion Stadium, reducing his Grapefruit League ERA to 1.29 and solidifying his hold on the fifth-starter job. Teheran had six strikeouts with two walks and retired 10 of the last 11 batters he faced.

“Julio’s got some weapons, man,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said of the rookie, who has allowed four hits and two runs in 14 innings this spring, with 18 strikeouts and four walks. “The more he goes out there, the more he’s impressed me with his change-up, with his two-seamer that cuts back on the lefties, his elevating the fastball, his command….

“We’ve got to work on the pick-off to first. That’s the second (start) in a row they’ve called a balk on him, so we need to clean that up a little bit.”

If that’s the biggest thing Teheran needs to work on, he and the Braves will take it. The fifth-starter job was his to lose entering spring training, and he’s done nothing to lose it and plenty to show team officials he might be ready to live up to the No. 1 organizational prospect ranking he’d had for three years running.

Teheran, 22, left the ballpark Tuesday before reporters were allowed to enter the clubhouse after the game.

His ERA nearly doubled in his second season at Triple-A Gwinnett, from 2.55 in 2011 to 5.08 in 2012, while his strikeouts slipped. But after working on his sinker and curveball during winter-ball in the Dominican Republic, where he pitched 16-2/3 scoreless innings over his final three starts, Teheran has kept rolling this spring.

It’s in marked contrast to his 2012 spring-training performance, when he had a shot at the starting rotation before struggling mightily in several Grapefruit League games.

“I wouldn’t have called him more than a one-pitch pitcher last year,” Gonzalez said. “He pitched with his fastball and occasionally he would have that good curveball. But right now he’s got the two fastballs – the four-seamer and the two-seamer – and he’s got the curveball, the change-up’s really good, and he’s got a little slider working, too.”