Julio Teheran went into last year rated as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, and he didn't live up to the billing, struggling in spring training and then not coming close to matching his previous success during a second season at Class AAA Gwinnett.
However, the 22-year-old right-hander from Colombia seemed to regain his old form in the Dominican winter league, and he is being counted on as the Braves' fifth starter after the team traded away both veteran Tommy Hanson and young Randall Delgado.
Is Teheran ready? He'd better be, because of the Braves really don't have a realistic Plan B with Brandon Beachy unavailable until at least midseason after undergoing Tommy John surgery last June.
"He's maturing," manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Teheran. "He looked different in winter ball. Sometimes failure is a good teacher."
Teheran allowed just two hits over 16 innings while striking out 15 in his final three outings in the Dominican. Gonzalez, general manager Frank Wren and other Braves officials watched one of the impressive starts.
The Braves had Teheran work on some refinements in his delivery last season, and the results were not what was hoped, to say the least. He had a 9.37 ERA in five Grapefruit League games last year, allowing nine homers in 16 innings. Then he went 7-9 with a 5.08 ERA at Gwinnett after winning the organization's pitcher of year honors the season before while going 15-3 with a 2.55 ERA.
Teheran went back to his old way of pitching in the Dominican, and his velocity, as well as his command, bounced back.
"(My mechanics) were not feeling natural, but I was trying to do the whole year how they wanted me to do it," Teheran said. "It doesn't work with me. So I started to use what I did the year before."
Now he has to build off that revived success this spring.
"I feel like I have more confidence," said Teheran, who reported to camp a little bigger and seemingly a lot stronger. "I know I have to work hard to be the fifth starter, but in my mind, just work hard and I'll be there."
Fit for duty
Dan Uggla hopes that a trimmer body will help him have a bounce-back season in 2013. The veteran reported to camp at about 205 pounds, which is down from 225 last spring and 215 at the end of last season. "I thought I was eating right, and I wasn't," he said. Uggla, 32, tailed off badly in the second half and finished last season with career lows in batting average (.220), home runs (19), RBI (78), slugging percentage (.384) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.732) while striking out a career-worst 168 times.
With LF Justin Upton and CF B.J. Upton joining RF Jason Heyward, the Braves will be the first major league team since the Twins in 2001 to have a regular outfield of all African-Americans. Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, a senior vice president with the team, has expressed his concern about the declining number of African-Americans in baseball, and he hopes that the addition of the Upton brothers will boost minority interest in Atlanta. "I'm pleased, and I hear people from my area talking about how pleased that they are," Aaron said. "So I'm hoping that they show their appreciation by coming to the ballpark."
Freddie Freeman, who played the last four months of the 2012 season with a sore left index finger, was able to grip the bat without issue as camp began. He was looking forward to a pain-free start to the season. His finger was hit by Jose Reyes' throw while sliding into second base against the Marlins on June 6. "The first week of January, I was able to make a full fist," Freeman said.
Start of business
Kris Medlen or Tim Hudson likely will get the Opening Day start at home against the Phillies on April 1, but manager Fredi Gonzalez said that he would wait until well into Grapefruit League play before lining up his rotation. There is a good chance that LHP Mike Minor, who finished last season strong, will start the second game of the three-game opening series with the Phillies so that Gonzalez can split his top right-handers.
2.21 -- LHP Mike Minor's ERA in his final 15 starts last season, compared to a 6.20 ERA in his first 15 outings.
Quote to note
"I would probably throw out a back muscle if I tried to swing a bat." -- Retired 3B Chipper Jones, who was in Braves camp for a few days as a guest instructor.