Julio Teheran showing strides in spring debut

On a warm and breezy Saturday afternoon in Viera, he looked more like the up-and-coming young ace who recently signed a six-year $32.4 million contract extension. Teheran pitched two scoreless innings against the Nationals in his spring training debut.

“I felt good out there,” Teheran said. “I was excited to come back on the mound, and (I) did what I expected, just throw strikes.”

He threw 21 of his 30 pitches for strikes and saw the fruits of work he’s been doing to continue refining his breaking pitches. He recorded his one strikeout of the day by getting Anthony Rendon to freeze, checking his swing, on a slider away.

The slider is a pitch Teheran started to use more often last season, after relying largely on a dominant fastball during his rise through the minors.

“I’ve been trying to perfect my slider and my curveball,” Teheran said. “I think this year is going to be different because I have the experience with them, with my slider.”

He threw eight of 10 pitches for strikes in a perfect first inning. Bryce Harper’s lineout to Freddie Freeman was the only ball hit in the air. The Nationals then worked a couple of two-out, two-strike singles off Teheran in the second inning, but he got Steven Souza Jr. to ground out to end the threat.

Teheran will face the Nationals again Thursday at Disney. The Braves are playing their National League East nemesis three times in a six-day span and five times in a 12-day span.

La Stella impressing: The Braves plan to open the season with Dan Uggla at second base, and he’s showing signs of progress early in spring training, with four RBIs in his first three games, but second baseman Tommy La Stella has been busy planting some seeds.

The 25-year-old prospect was 3-for-6 against the Nationals on Saturday afternoon, with a pair of doubles and three runs scored. He has hit 5-for-11 (.455) in three games in his first spring training in major league camp.

The left-handed hitting La Stella doubled to center in his first at-bat Saturday against left-hander Matt Purke, further evidence that the kid “is just a hitter,” as those who’ve watched him progress up the minor league ladder have said.

“He swings it, and our reports say that’s what he does,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He can swing and make contact and put the ball in play, a gap-type hitter. And today he showed that.”

La Stella is playing like he wants major league time this season, and if he keeps this up, he’ll get it. But he said his attitude this spring has not been built around showing Braves coaches and staff what he can do.

“It’s not about showing; it’s about improving every day,” La Stella said. “… It’s a tremendous opportunity, not only for me to be here and get my work in, but also to learn from these guys who had a ton of experience up here.”

A New Jersey native and eighth-round draft pick out of Coastal Carolina, La Stella is a career .327 hitter. Last year he hit .356 with 22 doubles and 45 RBIs in 88 games combined between Lynchburg (high Single-A) and Mississippi (Double-A).

Uggla, meanwhile, went 1-for-2 with a walk and an RBI single Saturday. He struck out on three pitches against starter Jordan Zimmermann, his first unproductive out of spring, but he recovered to work a walk in his next trip to the plate. Uggla singled in the fifth inning to drive in his fourth run of the spring, the second via an RBI hit.

Notable: Braves pitchers walked 11 in Saturday’s 16-15 loss, which dropped the Braves to 0-4 this spring. They blew leads of 5-2 and 14-6 after a walk-fest by middle relievers Mark Lamm (three), Juan Jaime (two) and Wirfin Obispo (four).

“We’ve got to get our guys to get the hamster back on the wheel and throw the ball over the plate a little bit,” Gonzalez said.

Among the positives, La Stella, Jordan Schafer and Matt Lipka each had three hits as the Braves rolled up 25. Lipka went 3-for-6, drove in four runs and stole a base. Regulars Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson each had RBI doubles.

Looking ahead: Justin Upton hopes to get his first action of spring Sunday, traveling with the Braves headed to play the Astros in Kissimmee in a split-squad game. Upton was scratched from the Grapefruit League opener Wednesday with a sore muscle in his right side and has missed the first four games. Gonzalez said he saw Upton on Saturday morning before the Braves left for Viera, and Upton was optimistic he would be ready after missing the first four games.

“He feels good,” Gonzalez said. “So I’m hoping (Sunday to) get him in there for a couple at-bats.”

The Braves also host the Tigers at Disney. Alex Wood is scheduled to start for the Braves in Disney and David Hale against the Astros in Kissimmee.

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