Teheran's growth has Braves, righty confident
Hurler, recently signed to six-year deal, ready to build on rookie success
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As encouraging as his rookie season might have been, Julio Teheran vividly remembers that 2013 ended with him recording just eight outs during the start he made in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers.
"It was my first postseason game," Teheran said. "I was a little excited and a little nervous. I think that has to happen, and then you learn from it. If I have another opportunity to be in the playoffs, I think that is going to help me, too, because I have the experience. I know what I have to do if I have another opportunity."
When the Braves gave Teheran a six-year, $32.4 million contract extension during the early days of Spring Training, they showed they are confident in the 23-year-old right-hander's ability to build upon the success he produced last season, when he took advantage of the opportunity to bounce back from the rough 2012 season he had with Triple-A Gwinnett.
"I've seen him grow from when he came to [big league Spring Training] for the first time," Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said. "Where he is now, he's obviously got a different look. As we saw last year, he has that feeling like he belongs, and he's not as unsure of himself."
As the Braves watched Teheran go 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA in 30 starts last season, they gained reason to feel better about his mental resolve. The success came one year after Teheran was forced to face adversity for the first time in his career.
Teheran was heralded as one of baseball's top overall prospects after he produced 2.55 ERA while serving as one of the International League's youngest pitchers in 2011. But after returning to the same Gwinnett rotation the following season, he produced a 5.08 ERA in 26 starts.
"My whole career, I was doing good things," Teheran said. "Sometimes, you have to have bad things happen, and then you learn something new."
Teheran's struggles during his second season at Gwinnett were influenced by the fact the Braves attempted to adjust his delivery. The intention was to better prepare him for the Major League level by making the delivery more repeatable.
During the final month of the 2012 season, the Braves sent then-special assistant Dom Chiti to Gwinnett to work with Teheran, who gladly accepted the opportunity to get back to his old ways. The highly regarded prospect allowed two earned runs or fewer in three of his last four starts.
While Chiti's assistance proved valuable, Teheran credits last season's turnaround to a message he received while dining with his childhood idol Pedro Martinez. Former Braves Minor League pitching coordinator Dave Wallace, who served as Martinez's pitching coach in Boston, helped arrange the meeting while Teheran was pitching in the Dominican Winter League.
"At that time, I was thinking about my bad year," Teheran said. "[Martinez] told me if you've got something like that, you got to forget it. You can't worry about that. Just keep it day by day and just try to be the best. It helped me a lot. That is when I started changing my [focus]. I wasn't going to be worried about what people say or what they might have been thinking about my bad year."
While watching Teheran pitch in the DWL, the Braves gained a sense that he had made the necessary strides to come to Spring Training last season with a strong chance to begin 2013 as their fifth starter.
Once Teheran won the assignment, he surrendered five runs in his season debut against the Cubs, and four runs through the first two innings of his next start. But after spotting the Nationals an early 4-0 lead on April 23, the young pitcher provided a glimpse of his mental resolve by not allowing another run over the remainder of his six-inning effort.
Six days later, Teheran gave up four more runs while lasting just five innings against the Pirates. But McDowell remembers that game as the one that turned things around for Teheran.
"He didn't have a repeatable delivery, and he wasn't consistent with his pitches," McDowell said. "His mechanics were out of sorts. [Bulllpen coach Eddie Perez], myself and Julio sat down in the middle of the clubhouse there in Pittsburgh, where the video is, and we went over it and talked about it. We showed him some things I thought he needed to improve upon or needed to change. To his credit, he went out and worked before the next start on that, and he continued to work on those things. "
While making his next start amid frigid conditions at Coors Field in Denver, Teheran allowed just one run over seven innings. That marked the beginning of a torrid stretch for the young hurler, who posted a 2.81 ERA in his final 27 regular-season starts.
"At first, I felt like he didn't have the confidence, and as the season went along, he gained confidence," Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. "I think he showed himself what he was capable of. We all knew. I had seen him pitch in the Minors. We knew he was capable of doing what he did."
As Teheran prepares for the upcoming season, he will be motivated by memories of his forgettable playoff start against the Dodgers last season. But he also will be comforted by the fact that he showed enough during his first full Major League season to give the Braves reason to pencil him into their rotation for at least the next six seasons.
"I know they have confidence in me," Teheran said. "I'm just trying to show them I have confidence in me, too."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.