Teheran lit up by Cubs as benches clear in Braves’ loss

Players hold Julio Teheran during a brief altercation in the second inning of Monday's Braves-Cubs game at Wrigley Field. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Players hold Julio Teheran during a brief altercation in the second inning of Monday's Braves-Cubs game at Wrigley Field. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

On June 13, Julio Teheran dwindled his ERA to 2.92. It was the take-that season nobody expected. The six-time Braves opening day starter had reestablished himself since last postseason, when it appeared his time with the Braves was over.

But in his past two starts, Teheran has regressed below even mediocre standards. Monday night was an eye sore: He allowed seven runs on nine hits, chased from the game without recording an out in the fifth. The Braves lost the series opener in Chicago 8-3.

“Not real good,” manager Brian Snitker said of Teheran. “Location wasn’t real good. A lot of deep counts, a lot of pitches. Just wasn’t a real sharp outing for him. It was a night we really pulled for him to cover a bunch of innings after the last couple days. It just didn’t work out.”

The Braves didn’t necessarily need Teheran to be a sub-3.00 ERA pitcher, but they cannot afford the run hemorrhaging that’s occurred in the last pair of outings. He’s allowed 13 earned runs on 17 hits, walking six in eight innings (four frames in each start). His ERA is up to 3.94 while his FIP has gone over 5.00, basically meaning positive fortune has influenced his ERA.

Before the Mets shelled Teheran on June 18, he was pitching the best he had since 2016, his last All-Star campaign. In eight starts from May 5 to June 13, Teheran earned a 0.81 ERA with a 32:22 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Opponents hit just .137 against him without any homers.

Teheran was hyper effective in that time, yet conversation centered on the inevitable regression. The issue, of course, is Teheran’s hot-and-cold tendencies. The Braves just need stability in their rotation, hence the Dallas Keuchel signing earlier this month.

Teheran’s velocity has fluctuated, and his four-seamer is averaging 90.2 mph, per FanGraphs, which is the lowest of his career. He’s not getting as many swings and misses out of the zone; just six in 88 pitches Monday. Entering the night, opponents had a contact rate of 68.8 when swinging at pitches outside the zone, an enormous leap from the 60 percent he allowed in 2018.

“I thought he was actually pretty good early on today,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “His command left him a little bit, he fell behind some guys. That’s a good hitting lineup over there, so it’s tough when you can’t get ahead of them. You can try pumping in strikes without giving in but you catch too much of the plate here or there and these guys can do some damage.”

Jon Lester silenced the Braves’ streaking offense, meaning there was no overcoming a disappointing pitching performance this time. It was only the Braves’ 13th loss in their last 41 games.

Teheran was on the peripherals of the evening’s most interesting spurt of action, when Willson Contreras homered off him in the second and celebrated while rounding the bases. He appeared to say something that irked Flowers, which led to the benches briefly clearing.

Contreras took exception to the strike zone during his at-bat, Flowers and Teheran said, then barked at Flowers after hitting his home run. Flowers took offense not at remarks made toward him, but in how Contreras “showed up” Teheran in that situation.

“He had more instigating words in that whole, whatever the heck that was,” Flowers said. “He wasn’t happy with the umpire on that second strike. For some reason, he felt inclined to say something to me after he hit that ball.”

Warnings were issued to both dugouts, though Snitker didn’t quite understand why. The incident had died down almost immediately after players returned to the bench. Cubs manager Joe Maddon told Flowers he’d speak with Contreras about instigating the event (“without making Contreras look bad”), which Flowers called a first-class move.

“It was all very unnecessary in my opinion,” Flowers said. “(Contreras) is a decent hitter. He doesn’t need to complain about every call. We won’t get into that aspect of that game we just finished, but he got plenty of calls for his guys too. So sometimes you have to pick your battles and that’s hopefully something he’ll learn as he gets a little older.”

The Braves and Cubs continue their four-game series Tuesday when Max Fried faces Adbert Alzolay. Because the Braves three-game swept the Cubs in April, they need only one win in Chicago to take the potentially important season series, which could determine homefield if the teams were to meet in the postseason.

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