Braves' Teheran shows impressive sinker

  LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- An improved sinker and take-nothing-for-granted attitude are helping Julio Teheran have the type of spring the Braves hoped to get from their expected fifth starter.

Teheran got nine outs in his first 10 batters faced before allowing a run on two hits, a walk and a balk in the fourth inning of Thursday’s 9-2 loss to Detroit at Champion Stadium. After totaling five strikeouts with one walk in four innings against the Tigers, he has 12 strikeouts and two walks in nine innings over three Grapefruit League starts.

“I was commanding my pitches,” Teheran said. “I think my two-seamer (sinker) is working very well. All my pitches are working good, but I’ve got more confidence on my two-seamer now.”

After a disappointing second season at Triple-A Gwinnett (7-9, 5.08 ERA), the Braves asked their top-rated prospect to work on his sinker in the Dominican Republic winter league.

“He’s done that, and the thing is really moving down,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Then he’s got the power four-seam fastball he can use to punch out a guy up in the strike zone. If those two pitches come along with the two breaking balls, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.”

Teheran, who has allowed two runs and four hits in nine innings this spring.

“They wanted me to throw the two-seamer in the Dominican,” he said. “I wanted to learn how to throw that pitch and that’s what I did. I had the confidence and I said I’m going to bring it with me to Atlanta, and that’s what I’m doing now.”

Gonzalez particularly liked how Teheran used the sinker against the Tigers.

“He added another little twist today, running it in on left-handers, back over the plate,” he said, “which I hadn’t seen from him before. You see signs of him getting advanced a little bit. Maybe it’s a combination of (catcher Gerald) Laird – I think this is the second or third time catching him – maybe he’s coming up with some stuff.”

Although an overwhelming favorite to be the fifth starter over a field that includes no other candidates with major league experience, Teheran said he’s not assuming anything.

“I’m happy,” he said. “I still have the same mentality to make the team, and it’s going to be (like that) the whole year.”

Third-base update: Juan Francisco continued his strong showing with an opposite-field homer onto the grass berm beyond left field. The third-base candidate is hitting .370 (10-for-27) with two doubles, two homers and five RBIs.

He’s competing with Chris Johnson, who has hit .364 (8-for-22) with two homers and four RBIs.

“Hit the ball out to the opposite field -- he’s swinging it,” Gonzalez said of Francisco. “He’s been impressive. And Chris Johnson’s been impressive, too. We’ll see how that plays out. We’ve still got 18 games, something like that. We’ll see how that plays out. So far I’m really happy with both of those guys.”

Short hops: The Tigers led 1-0 before scoring five runs on seven hits in the seventh inning against reliever Anthony Varvaro…. For Friday's split-squad games, the Braves will start Kris Medlen against the Blue Jays at home and lefty prospect Sean Gilmartin against the Astros at Kissimmee. Gonzalez said he plans to have his starting outfielders play in the home game and infielders Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman make the short trip to Kissimmeee.