Teheran stellar in Brewers debut, but bats quiet

May 26th, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- Manager Craig Counsell didn’t find it all that unusual that the Brewers started right-hander against the Giants on Thursday, just two hours or so after he signed a contract.

“It’s very similar to a trade,” Counsell shrugged. “I think CC Sabathia, who is here tonight, did that. I think we traded for him and he pitched the first day he got here.”

Time flies, because that was 15 years ago. Sabathia, a special assistant to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, indeed was at American Family Field on Thursday to watch Teheran’s rather inspired return to the sport’s biggest stage after an absence of more than two years in the Brewers’ 5-0 loss to the Giants.

Plugging a hole in a rotation riddled with injuries, Teheran delivered five solid innings while holding the Giants to one run on four hits (all singles) with one walk and five strikeouts. The game was closer than the final score made it seem. LaMonte Wade Jr.’s RBI single with two outs in the fifth inning represented the only run for either team until the Giants knocked around Tyson Miller for four runs in the eighth. The Brewers tallied only four hits in a bullpen game for the Giants; 3 2/3 innings were delivered by left-handers, the Brewers’ Achilles heel.

Teheran threw 85 pitches and topped out at 91.7 mph in his first start since April 3, 2021 with the Tigers. A shoulder injury interrupted a terrific big league career spent mostly with the Braves. His five strikeouts were the most since Teheran struck out six in September 2019, when he was still considered an upper-echelon starter. In a seven-season span in which he made two National League All-Star teams, Teheran topped 150 innings every year and delivered a 3.64 ERA for Atlanta.

“When I signed the contract [Thursday afternoon], I kind of got a feeling to know that I was back,” Teheran said. “Today, I was really focused. It’s been something I’ve been doing my whole life, to pitch in front of a lot of people. It was like, ‘This is the place that I deserve to be and I’ve been working to be.’ I was going out there and competing.”

Counsell noticed that Teheran’s delivery was closer to a three-quarters slot than he remembered from Atlanta. Giants outfielder Michael Conforto, the former Met who had 30 at-bats against Teheran with Atlanta, also noted the different look.

“He was throwing more four-seam fastballs up in the zone,” Conforto said. “From what I remember, it was more sinkers down, and he was coming in a little bit more. … He threw pretty well for the first five innings. The four-seam working the other way seems to be working a little bit better for him.”

Thursday’s outing continued a strong stretch for starting pitchers who weren’t on the Brewers’ Opening Day roster, but are now important arms for a team trying to get to the other side of a brutal stretch of injuries. Colin Rea and Adrian Houser each delivered 5 1/3 innings of scoreless ball in consecutive shutout victories over the Astros on Tuesday and Wednesday before Teheran passed a physical and was active for Milwaukee’s series opener against the Giants.

He’d become a free agent days earlier by opting out of a Minor League deal with the Padres. Teheran was 4-2 with a 5.62 ERA for Triple-A El Paso, including a 3.74 ERA over his last four starts.

“He was throwing the ball OK. It’s tough to pitch on the moon out there,” Brewers GM Matt Arnold said, a nod to El Paso’s high-altitude, hitter-friendly reputation. “If you’re looking to plug a hole, you could do worse than a two-time All-Star.

“We’re always looking. Especially with starting pitching, you’ve got to have it. With relievers, it’s like, ‘We can find it.’ But finding guys to [start], that’s hard. We like the experience. And we hear he’s a great guy.”

Teheran said the past two years have been “tough” as he’s tried to get healthy and find an opportunity with a Major League club. He had stints in Independent ball and in Mexico before his Minor League deal with the Padres.

“That was part of the process, that was part of the challenge I was having,” he said. “I knew that at some point, if I was doing what I was doing in my previous years, that I would be back. I’m kind of proud of myself and the job that I’ve been doing to get back to the big leagues.”

Said Counsell: “He pitches like he knows what he’s doing, which is kind of what we expected.”