ATLANTA - Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran rode his changeup early and hard Saturday night against a left-handed-heavy Oakland Athletics lineup, showing how effective he can be in different ways.
Teheran seemed to make a point to establish his changeup against Oakland's lefty hitters, resulting in a 17 percent usage over six innings. His high for changeup usage in a game this season is 18 percent.
He only had four swinging strikes and one strikeout, a rarity for a pitcher who entered with a 22 percent strikeout rate this year. It shows that, while Teheran's changeup isn't enough to profile as an out pitch, it's effective enough to keep lefties off balance and avoid hard contact.
"That’s something I’ve been working on," Teheran said. "They have a lot of lefties in the lineup, so it’s something I need to do. I’m not used to that many lefties. I just have to focus on what I need to do to get them out."
Another reason for the Athletics' weak contact was Teheran's two-seam fastball. It sat 88-90 with movement to mimic the changeup, effectively keeping hitters off the off-speed.
Teheran also needed an effective changeup more than usual because he fought his curveball all game. He threw 18 curves compared to 17 changeups, but he never gained a feel for the curve, leaving it high and spinning in the zone. While he goes back and forth between the two pitches as his change of pace, the curve is usually the more reliable offering.
Against a more balanced lineup, Teheran usually throws majority sliders as his main secondary pitch, which is his true out pitch. It's a big reason for his strikeout percentage this season. But lefties are capable of picking up the break, so Teheran basically has to be a different pitcher against a lineup like Oakland's. The fact that he threw six solid innings while pitching a different type of game shows how well-rounded Teheran has become.
Teheran continues to fight his back knee and release point, which shows most starts when he has a cluster of pitches high and arm-side. His back knee will collapse and cause his back side to drop, resulting in lost plane and pitches lost up and away. Teheran doesn't always have to work down because of his confidence to work in and out, but he sometimes loses pitches to the point of them being not competitive.
He showed some of this in Saturday's start, which shows in the attached zone plot. But he didn't consistently lose pitches high and arm-side like over the past few starts, which also helped overcome a lack of an out pitch in the outing. Staying competitive with as many pitches as possible is important when stuff isn't at its best.
It's little things like finding a feel for a different pitch against an unsual lineup that add up to big results. Teheran has had huge, positive results all season. Saturday's start was the latest little example why.