TAMPA, Fla. -- Whenever Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has been asked if he is ready to officially announce Julio Teheran as his Opening Day starter, he has responded in the manner that you would expect if he had just been asked whether each half-inning will consist of three outs again
TAMPA, Fla. -- Whenever Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has been asked if he is ready to officially announce Julio Teheran as his Opening Day starter, he has responded in the manner that you would expect if he had just been asked whether each half-inning will consist of three outs again this year.
Since trading Shelby Miller to the D-backs in December, the Braves have essentially had no choice but to give Teheran a third consecutive Opening Day start. Now they can only hope that the right-hander continues to distance himself from last year's struggles and pitches as effectively as he did through most of his outing in Saturday afternoon's 3-2 loss to the Yankees.
• Spring:Tickets | Ballpark | 40-man roster | NRIs
"I thought it was a solid outing, I really did," Gonzalez said. "I'll take that outing and continue going forward and keep stretching him out. I liked what I saw. "
After cruising through the first three innings against a left-handed-heavy Yankees lineup, Teheran endured a three-run fourth that reminded them of his struggles against lefty hitters and the fact that his success is reliant on defensive assistance. Mark Teixeira's sharp grounder eluded Nick Swisher's glove at first base and Chase Headley's opposite-field double proved that Hector Olivera still needs to get used to balls that slice off of a lefty's bat.
"That's the thing with pitching and young pitching, you've got to catch the ball," Gonzalez said. "If you don't, pitch counts go up and you can put them in stressful situations."
Teheran surrendered six hits and three earned runs over 4 1/3 innings. The outing was not as dominant as his start Monday, when he faced one over the minimum in four scoreless innings against the Rays. But outside of the fourth, his latest Opening Day tuneup did at least provide the Braves more hope that this year might be different for Teheran, who produced a 4.04 ERA over 33 starts last year. His primary nemesis was left-handed hitters, who produced a .893 OPS against him.
With this in mind, it was beneficial for Teheran to face a Yankees lineup that enabled him to face six hitters who were batting from the left side. He retired five as he proved perfect through the first two innings and had allowed just one lefty to reach safely before he opened the fourth by walking Didi Gregorius.
While facing 14 left-handed hitters Saturday, Teheran allowed four hits (including those awarded to Teixeira and Headley in the fourth), issued one walk and hit a batter. He hit Jacoby Ellsbury on the hand with a pitch that indicated he is making a concerted effort to once again consistently come in on left-handers, with the hope that his two-seam fastball won't leak back over the plate as consistently as it did last year.
"Other than the fourth inning, when I had to work a little bit, I was making all of my pitches," Teheran said. "I think I did pretty well. That [fourth] inning, even though they got a couple base hits, I was attacking the zone and throwing strikes. That's what matters right now. I know I didn't make it through the fifth inning, which was the goal for this game, but I feel pretty good."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.