PITTSBURGH -- Further solidifying his status as one of baseball's most baffling pitchers, Julio Teheran extended his mastery of the recently offensively-woeful Pirates on a night when his average four-seam fastball velocity was as low as it has been in any healthy start he's made since the start of 2015."We
PITTSBURGH -- Further solidifying his status as one of baseball's most baffling pitchers, Julio Teheran extended his mastery of the recently offensively-woeful Pirates on a night when his average four-seam fastball velocity was as low as it has been in any healthy start he's made since the start of 2015.
"We were talking about it during the game," Braves catcher Tyler Flowers said. "My main reason for bringing it up was to make sure he felt OK. He said, 'I feel great. I'm just trying to locate it and not trying to overthrow it or anything.' That's what he ended up doing. I think that was one of his better command days with the full arsenal."
Backed by Ronald Acuna Jr.'s latest leadoff home run and Freddie Freeman's decisive sacrifice fly, Teheran extended his recent success as the Braves completed a three-game sweep of the Pirates with Wednesday night's 2-1 win over the Pirates at PNC Park.
"Warming up, I felt I didn't need to throw harder," Teheran said. "It reminds me of the start I made [against Tampa Bay]. I think it was the same delivery. I wasn't forcing it. I was throwing down and up and commanding."
Teheran's memory was as efficient as his command. When he limited the Rays to four hits over six innings on May 9, his average four-seam velocity was 88.8 mph. The veteran right-hander found some of that same magic again as he allowed two hits and one run over seven innings as his four-seamer averaged 87.7 mph -- matching the season-low (min. 25 four-seamers) he produced during an ugly June 4 start in San Diego.
Statcast™ data showed entering Wednesday, Major Leaguers had hit .289 and produced a .573 slugging percentage against four-seamers clocked at 88 mph or slower. But the Pirates, who have scored one run or less in five of their past seven games, had hit just .154 (6-for-39) against such pitches.
"Today was the best command I've [had] in a while," said Teheran, who has finally found some consistent success as he has produced a 2.93 ERA over his past five starts.
As the Braves gained a three-game division lead over the Phillies, who lost in walk-off fashion to the Nationals on Wednesday, there was reason to see why Atlanta is so committed to giving each of its starters an extra day of rest whenever possible.
Teheran was making a second consecutive start with regular rest for the first time since May 30, the start that preceded him allowing four earned runs over four innings in San Diego. He was placed on the disabled list after that outing with what was termed a bruised thumb and perceived by many to be arm fatigue.
But Teheran indicated the low velocity produced in this latest outing had more to do with design than arm strength. He is long past his younger days when his arsenal still had a hint of some power pitches. He now relies heavily on a slider, which he threw 17 times during this 84-pitch effort against the Pirates.
Teheran kept Pittsburgh hitless until Colin Moran produced a two-out, fifth-inning single that scored Adam Frazier, who had drawn a seven-pitch walk. This marked the first time since June 27, 2015 -- a span of 26 2/3 innings -- the Pirates scored an earned run against Teheran.
"We've seen this guy before," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's a different pitcher than we saw a few years ago. He made pitches. He slowed the game down. He spun the ball extremely well."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Wanting to give closer A.J. Minter one more day to rest his back, Snitker handed a one-run ninth-inning lead to Jonny Venters, who took advantage of the opportunity to notch his second save of the season and first for the Braves since Aug. 22, 2011.
Venters, who has undergone what he terms as 3 1/2 Tommy John surgeries, had no idea this save came on the seventh anniversary of what had been his most recent for Atlanta. But it will take a while for him to forget the panic he felt when Gregory Polanco's two-out double hit off the top of the right-field wall before Francisco Cervelli grounded out to end the game.
"It felt good," Venters said. "I'm just glad I was able to get it done. That one made me nervous. [Polanco] hit it pretty hard. Julio threw the ball well today, and the guys played really well. So, I'm glad we were able to get out of here with a win."
After Pirates starter Trevor Williams allowed just one run over six innings, right-handed reliever Kyle Crick encountered trouble when the eighth inning began with a Dansby Swanson single and consecutive walks. Freeman made yet another bid to record his first career grand slam but settled for a decisive sacrifice fly.
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Acuna got the Braves rolling when he opened the game by hitting Williams' changeup over the left-center-field wall. The 20-year-old outfielder's sixth leadoff homer of the season -- fourth within the past 13 games -- was his 20th homer of the season and 13th since the All-Star break.
Sean Newcomb will look to halt his recent struggles when the Braves head to Marlins Park to begin a four-game series Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Newcomb allowed the Brewers a season-high 12 hits on Aug. 12 and then surrendered a season-high seven earned runs in Friday's loss to the Rockies. He has allowed two runs in 18 innings against the Marlins this year. Miami will counter with Elieser Hernandez.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.