May 14th in San Francisco, Julio Teheran gave up 5 runs (4 earned) on 7 hits and 5 walks and completed just 3 1/3 innings. This wound up being a brutal loss in the middle of a brutal road trip. Julio clearly lacked his usual sharp command. Speculation swirled about a blister/cut on his hand after trainers visited him on the mound, but it turned out to be something else.
He couldn’t get a grip. Literally. After the game he told reporters that it’s been a recurring problem that he faces when pitching on the west coast. He struggled with his grip last year in the NLDS in Los Angeles.
Tuesday night at home against the Brewers, his grip only came into question once, with two out in the 7th when a wayward pitch plunked Tyler Thornburg. Aside from that blunder and a few harmlessly scattered hits, Teheran pitched lights out en route to his second complete-game shutout of the season. The first came back in April against the struggling Phils, but this time he made a big statement by blanking the first-place Brewers. He held Ryan Braun hitless and racked up 8 strikeouts, 4 to Carlos Gomez.
That stellar start is what we’ve come to expect from T-rex, and for good reason. He is one of just seven pitchers in the MLB sporting a WHIP below 1.0, and he’s lowered his ERA to a sizzling 1.92. In these categories, he ranks above many pitchers widely considered aces: Zach Greinke, Yu Darvish, Kyle Loshe, Scott Kazmir, Masahiro Tanaka, just to name a few. And at twenty-three years old, Julio is just approaching his prime, and we’ve got him penned to a four-year contract.
I often wonder why he doesn’t get as much love from the media as similarly skilled players. Part of the reason is that he plays for Atlanta, which never gets enough coverage, but his record may also be to blame. With 44 career starts, his record is not far from average: 18-12.
The job of a starting pitcher is to give his team a chance to win the game. He can’t win it on his own. Teheran’s 2014 record (3-3 after Tuesday night’s win) is a testament to the shortcomings of Atlanta’s offense. With the exception of last week’s loss to the Giants, the Braves have been in a good position to win every game Teheran started. It’s simple–when the Braves give him a few runs of support, Teheran gets the win.
Atlanta’s recent shortcomings in the playoffs have been due in large part to an inability to match up against dominant pitching. We’ve had a rotation full of #2 and #3 pitchers, and it hasn’t been enough. I’m convinced that Teheran can go toe-to-toe with any pitcher in the league. Let’s give him that chance and give him some runs.
Braves fans already know what Teheran is capable of. Pretty soon, the rest of the baseball world is going to wake up and recognize him as a genuine ace.