Julio Teheran does his part in opener

Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionApril 1, 2014 

MILWAUKEE -- If the objective was to alleviate concerns about a pitching staff bent on bankrupting the health care industry, give the Braves credit Monday. Their opening performance was as soothing as a cup of herbal tea and soft harp strums for a frazzled fan base.

Julio Teheran, in the toddler stage of his career but thrust into an opening day role, endured six innings without his best stuff. He pitched out of jams and allowed only two runs. He gave his team a chance to win. He was backed by two relievers, Ian Thomas and Gus Schlosser, who made their respective major league debuts and allowed Milwaukee batters relative bupkis.

Feel the calm wash over you.

OK, now here come the cymbals.

The Braves lost to Milwaukee 2-0. It's one game. It's one of 162. That's .6 percent of the season.

Washington won. So the Nationals' magic number to clinch the National League East is down to 161. There's probably still time to catch them.

But a 2-0 loss with a strong pitching performance: Wait, haven't we seen this game before?

The Braves were held to five hits. They had a few scoring chances but went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven base runners.

Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton, the kick-me-sign twins from a year ago, went a combined 0-for-8 and stranded three each. (Uggla at least had more quality at-bats than Upton, who struck out twice and could be seen immediately after the game watching replays of his swings in the clubhouse.)

So for one game at least, pitching concerns were alleviated and gave way to an opening hiccup by the offense.

Uggla was asked if the Braves need to take advantage of strong pitching performances, given the condition of the rotation after the losses of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to season-ending elbow surgeries.

"Regardless of the injuries we've had on our staff, I've always put a lot of importance on these early games," he said.

"Everybody always likes, 'It's early, it's early.' Julio did a great job. All of these games are important. But they made good pitches when they needed to. We were just a knock away. We just never got anything going."

The Braves ranked 13th in runs and 20th in batting average last season. But they won 96 games largely because of a pitching staff that led the majors with a 3.18 ERA. If they can't replicate that with two expected starters lost to injuries, as well as the free agent losses of starter Tim Hudson and reliever Eric O'Flaherty, they obviously will need to be more productive at the plate.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez cracked before the game that he "slept like a baby," on the eve of the opener. "Slept three hours and then woke up crying."

Really, the last thing the man wants to think about now is potential problems with the offense. When the subject of being held scoreless was broached afterward, he credited Milwaukee starter Yovani Gallardo, then said to an inquisitor (me): "How many guys you want to release today?"

Alrighty then.

He continues: "Come on. It's one game. Let's wait two or three weeks. I think it's too early to be worrying about that from my perspective."

See? I had to go and spill his tea and break the harp strings.

It started so well. Jason Heyward, the first batter of the 2014 season, singled. Three outs later, he was standing on second.

Justin Upton opened the second inning with a 12-pitch walk. Impressive. Three outs and a single later, he also was standing on second.

In the fifth, B.J. Upton struck out for the second time with two runners on base. In the sixth, Justin Upton and Uggla failed to come through after a one-out double by Chris Johnson. In the ninth, Evan Gattis, the miracle-maker of so many games last season, struck out for the second time with a runner on base. There would be no patented Gattis "Wonder Boy" moments in Game 1.

The Braves didn't need much because Teheran didn't allow much. Though Teheran was dinged a bit, giving up seven hits and a walk in his six innings, the Brewers' only scoring came on a two-run double by Aramis Ramirez in the fourth.

Teheran said, "I didn't have my pitches." But it's the mark of a young pitcher with poise when he can get by in a game like that and work his way out of situations as quickly as he worked into them.

It's just one loss. No freakout, Fredi, honest. But given the backdrop of pitching concerns, the question is how many of these strong efforts the Braves can afford to waste, particularly in these early weeks before Mike Minor, Ervin Santana and Gavin Floyd return from injuries.

"We allowed only two runs against that team and they've got some pretty good hitters," Johnson said. "So chalk this one up to our offense. I know I came up in the first inning with a runner on, but I couldn't come through. But give them credit. They made some plays and Gallardo did a good job."

As did Teheran. So there's that.

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