Young righty has come into his own this season after initial struggles in Majors
LOS ANGELES -- By the time Julio Teheran was 19 years old in 2010, the Colombian right-hander had established himself as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. For the Braves, he represented the future.
By the time Teheran was 20, he had stormed all the way to the Majors, before his star quite suddenly fell back to earth. Teheran struggled in his first taste of the big leagues, which is not uncommon for a pitcher his age. But his issues melted into the following season as he became more and more reliant on his fastball, which lost velocity while he worked through mechanical issues.
Then, just as suddenly, Teheran reemerged this year as the top-flight talent he always had been. His reward? A date with Los Angeles in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Sunday, starting opposite Hyun-Jin Ryu at 8 p.m. ET on TBS.
"I never thought [I would] be in this situation this year in my first year," Teheran said Saturday at Dodger Stadium, where he will make his first career postseason start. "I'm just trying to calm myself down and be focused on the game, and try to do the same thing I've been doing."
Key stat: Opponents hitting .067 with bases loaded
Key stat: 2.97 ERA in the second half
At Dodger Stadium
2013: 15 GS, 7-4, 2.32 ERA Career: 15 GS, 7-4, 2.32 ERA
2013: Did not pitch Career: Did not pitch
Against this opponent
2013: 2 GS, 0-0, 2.13 ERA Career: 2 GS, 0-0, 2.13 ERA
2013: Did not pitch Career: Did not pitch
Loves to face: Jason Heyward, 1-for-7, 3 K Hates to face: Freddie Freeman, 3-for-4
Loves to face: Michael Young 0-for-3, 1 K Hates to face: Only faced two Dodgers
Why he'll win: Rises to the occasion on big stage
Why he'll win: Has a lively fastball with good command
Pitcher beware: Has not pitched in postseason
Pitcher beware: Inexperienced in October
Bottom line: Change speeds and attack the strike zone
Bottom line: Build on strong second half, don't get rattled on the road
To reach this point, Teheran at least partially credits a conversation he had with Pedro Martinez during the Dominican winter ball season. Braves Minor League pitching instructor Dave Wallace, one of Martinez's pitching coaches in Boston, arranged the meeting.
"It was a big experience for me because he was one of my idols," Teheran said of Martinez, who also broke into the Majors at age 20. "He just was talking about the bad years that he had, and I was trying to listen because I had a bad year my last season. I was just trying to focus on this one, and that's what he was telling me."
Perhaps it was Martinez's advice, perhaps something different. Whatever it was, Teheran reported to Spring Training a seemingly different pitcher. Armed with a shiny new two-seam fastball, Teheran won the fifth-starter job by going 3-1 with a 1.04 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 26 innings. A few hiccups emerged at the beginning of the season, but by late April, they were out of his system.
From April 23 through the end of the season, Teheran went 14-8 with a 2.81 ERA, pitching at least as well as rotation-mates Kris Medlen and Mike Minor. Combine those numbers with Teheran's raw stuff -- a low- to mid-90s fastball, improving sinker and biting curve -- and the result is a pitcher who one day soon could be Atlanta's No. 1 starter.
"Julio Teheran came in as our No. 5 this year, and he's one of our best starters," Minor said. "He has dominant stuff. He could be an ace."
When Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez studied tape of his Game 3 opponent on Saturday morning, he saw a pitcher with enough moxie to keep even Los Angeles' veteran lineup off-balance, if the Dodgers are not careful.
"He's a guy that mixes speeds well with his curveball," Gonzalez said. "He's unpredictable with his slider/curveball. It's the same pitch, he just changes speeds on it. His changeup is pretty consistent to the outside corner. Fastball in and out, he likes to keep it down. He's a guy that you kind of have to wait him out and make sure you get a pitch out over the plate. If you chase against him, he'll get you to roll over it or get a weak at-bat. You've really got to be patient."
At Dodger Stadium, the Braves will look for Teheran to create as many weak at-bats as he can. Runs should be at a premium against Ryu, who held the Braves to one over 7 2/3 innings the last time he saw them in June. Teheran, meanwhile, has never faced the Dodgers, though the Braves are happy to have him on the mound.
"He's going to go out and he's going to compete like he always has," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "If he gets his fastball command and throws the secondary pitches, he's going to be OK."