Braves’ top starter Teheran ready to ‘do the right things’

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Julio Teheran will make a modest $3.3 million in this, the third year of a six-year, $32.4 million contract he signed before the 2014 season. While still being paid similar to what a back-end-of-the-rotation starter makes on some large-payroll teams, Teheran is the questioned ace of the Braves staff.

And he says it’s time to act like it both on the field and in the clubhouse, which at spring training includes a lot of pitchers and pitching prospects who are several years younger than him.

“I feel old,” Teheran said, smiling over the absurdity of that comment coming from a guy who only turned 25 in January. “I know there are a lot of new faces here. I’m not trying to be the (vocal) leader, I’m just trying to be the example, do the work. I know there are going to be a lot of eyes on me, a lot of people watching, and I’m just trying to do everything the right way.”

A little later, he said, “I know they’re going to be looking at me now. It’s time to do the right things.”

An obvious leading candidate to make his third consecutive opening-day starter, Teheran is the only Braves rotation certainty with as many as 20 major league starts. Veteran Bud Norris is also expected to be in the rotation, but the Braves’ No. 2 or No. 3 starter could be Matt Wisler, who has pitched in only 20 games (19 starts), all in 2015.

The rotation could be rounded out by one or two from a group of seasoned veterans who signed minor league contracts: Kyle Kendrick, Chris Volstad and Jhoulys Chacin. Or the Braves could go with “the kids” and choose from among the others who made their debuts last season – Williams Perez, Manny Banuelos, Mike Foltynewicz – and top prospects led by hard-throwing left-hander Sean Newcomb, who came from the Angels in the Andrelton Simmons trade in November.

In any scenario envisioned, the one sure thing appears to be Teheran atop the rotation. He is 40-30 with a 3.44 ERA in 103 games (100 starts) three full seasons and parts of two others, and made the All-Star team in 2014, when he went 14-13 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in a career-high 231 innings.

Teheran struggled on the road for much of 2015 en route to an 11-8 record and 4.04 ERA in 200 2/3 innings over 33 starts. He restored his confidence by producing a 3.24 ERA in his last 17 starts, including a 1.62 ERA and .213 opponents’ average in his final six.

After going 1-5 with a 7.24 ERA in his first 11 road starts, he was 2-1 with a 1.97 ERA in his last five road starts.

“What I learned from last year was to just put my mind right, to stay strong,” said Teheran, who spent the offseason at home in Colombia, adding about five pounds and redistributing other weight while working out with a personal trainer.

“I understand in my career there is going to be a year like that, but you just take the good things from last year and bring them to this one, and just forget about what (else) happened last year.”

The Braves traded away their other best starter, Shelby Miller, in December, and for much of the winter there were rumors they might deal Teheran, though team officials said repeatedly they had no intentions of trading the right-hander.

Now, Teheran is the only Brave other than Freddie Freeman who has been with the team for the past three seasons. The Braves have stocked up on pitching prospects brought in several other pitchers who could serve as a bridge before the prospects are ready to bolster the rotation.

“I see that we’ve got a lot of talent here, we’ve got a lot of prospects coming up,” Teheran said. “It’s exciting, something you can feel excited about – about them, about how they’re going to battling for a spot. That’s something fun that we’re going to see this spring.

“Whoever is in the rotation, I know they’re going to learn and get to know how it’s supposed to be. We’ve got a lot of good arms. I’m excited for this year and the coming years.”