Restored slider brings restored confidence for Braves’ Teheran

The Atlanta Braves are hoping homegrown pitching will be one of the key ingredients in the recipe for long-term success. Now, four years into a rebuild, they find their top starting pitcher is undergoing his own rebuild of sorts.

And for Julio Teheran, it all starts with one pitch. The slider.

After a challenging 2017, Teheran aiming to prove he’s still front and center in Atlanta’s plans. To do that, Teheran is going to have to find a way to get back to the All-Star form he displayed two seasons ago. And to do that, he retraced his steps.

Teheran turned to his uncle, Miguel Teheran, to help reclaim a pitch that is critical to arsenal. The two worked together this winter to make improvements to the slider. With his duties every fifth day on hold, the time was right to make changes.

“During the season he watched me a couple of times,” said Teheran of his longtime mentor. “Obviously, he made some calls to me, but it wasn’t like I was going to do something during the season. We spent a lot of time in the offseason working together and I think a lot of things are better.”

Teheran reflected on the difference between his All-Star campaign of 2016 and the roller coaster ride that followed. He realized his breaking ball was the difference maker.

“My slider wasn’t like it was the year before,” said Teheran. “My command wasn’t the best at the beginning and I kind of worked during the season a little bit, but I knew that the season wasn’t the time to work on making the adjustment.”

Turns out the winter came at a good time. Despite working with Braves pitching coach Chuck Hernandez between starts for months, Teheran was unable to truly right the ship until later in the season.

“I think it’s easier in the offseason because you don’t have a game and you don’t have to prove what you’ve been working on,” said Teheran. “You just need time to work and try to fix something and then by the time the game comes in spring training, you’ve got everything fixed and it’s something that you don’t even think about.”

According to FanGraphs, Teheran threw his slider just 19 percent of the time last season. That represented a career-low rate and was nearly 7 percent lower than 2016, when he enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career. Losing confidence in that pitch led to an increased reliance on his fastball and that in turn gave hitters the ability to adjust their expectations when it came to Teheran’s offerings.

With his uncle’s assistance, Teheran worked to implement some necessary pitch corrections. Rather than changing his slider altogether, he said simply loosening the grip provided the improved movement he was searching for.

The results received some immediate recognition from batterymate Tyler Flowers.

“When I threw my first bullpen, I threw with Flowers and he said the slider looks different,” said Teheran. “I hadn’t even told him that I was working on it and he told me that it’s looks like the slider two years ago. That’s when I told him that I was working on it.”

Armed with some early returns this spring and feedback that supported his efforts to improve the slider over the winter, Teheran feels much more confident about his ability to generate the results he’d become accustomed to over the prior four seasons.

“The slider is the pitch that I need,” he said. “When I don’t have my slider, it’s like a different game.”

One of the big reasons why the right adjustments may have taken longer to identify was the fact that Teheran appeared to be two different pitchers at times.

Something was definitely off.

One glance at Teheran’s home-road splits revealed a truly bizarre set of circumstances. In roughly the same number of innings pitched, his season careened out of control at home yet remained closer to his career norms on the road.

  • Home (17 GS): 3-10, 5.86 ERA with 17 HR allowed in 93.2 IP
  • Road (15 GS): 8-3, 3.14 ERA with 14 HR allowed in 94.2 IP

Teheran’s new home ballpark didn’t exactly greet him with open arms. Following a solid debut performance in the SunTrust Park opener, he allowed 13 home runs over his next eight outings there and posted a 7.36 ERA during the dozen home starts that followed between April and August.

On a brighter note, Teheran seemed to be finding his way in September. That was due, at least in part, to beginning to recapture the feel for his slider. He posted a 2.81 ERA with just two homers allowed over 25.2 IP in his final four home starts.

Teheran got his first taste of the major leagues in 2011. Once the top pitching prospect in the game, he’s since become the mainstay of the Atlanta starting rotation. Now he enters his sixth full season and is scheduled to make his fifth opening day start.

It’s not like Teheran is a true elder statesman either. He just turned 27 years old, but he looks forward to the opportunity to lead the Braves starting five again this season. It’s a group that includes many young arms and up and coming prospects hoping to make their mark in 2018. Many of them are in big league camp this spring as well.

“It’s fun to be the guy that’s in front of the rotation, especially in a young group,” he said. “It’s guys you’ve been watching and they’re not even that far from you. We’re like three years difference and two years difference.

“I know they’ve been watching what I’ve been doing, and I try to motivate. We’re here working together to get a starting rotation and it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a lot of competition this spring and I’m excited to see who’s going to be in our rotation.”

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