Teheran living up to potential now with Braves

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Julio Teheran isn’t officially the Braves’ fifth starter yet.

“He’s too young for me to say that,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

But there is no question that Teheran has done everything he can so far this spring to earn a rotation spot.

In fact, he’s looked a lot better than just a fifth starter.

“He might be penciled in as five, but if he continues to keep pitching like he has been, he’ll rise in the ranks pretty quickly,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said.

Teheran added to the St. Louis Cardinals’ offensive woes and in the process took another step in locking up a starting spot on Tuesday.

Teheran struck out six in five hitless innings and lowered his spring ERA to 1.29 as the Braves defeated the Cardinals 12-3 on a damp day at Champion Stadium.

“He’s been great,” Gonzalez said of the 22-year-old native of Colombia. “He’s matured. He’s polished himself up a little bit and he’s looking good.”

The Cardinals had gone 29 consecutive innings without a run before scoring three times in the seventh against Braves reliever Luis Avilan. But the Cardinals’ recent struggles at the plate couldn’t diminish Teheran’s work.

The right-hander has allowed only four hits in 14 innings over four starts and has 18 strikeouts to four walks over 14 innings. Of his 64 pitches against the Cardinals, 44 were strikes and he mixed in his expanded assortment of pitches will.

“Julio’s got some weapons,” Gonzalez said. “The more he goes out there the more he’s impressing me with his changeup and a two-seamer that comes back on the lefties.”

Teheran struggled last spring when given a chance to win a rotation spot and then had a down year with Class AAA Gwinnett after being the International League’s top pitcher the previous season. But he’s a different and more confident pitcher.

“He’s up to three, maybe 3 ½ [different] pitches now,” Gonzalez said. “I wouldn’t have called him more than a one-pitch pitcher last year.”

While Teheran handcuffed the Cardinals, St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook struggled with his control and then relievers Edward Mujica and Jason Motte allowed eight runs in the seventh and eighth innings.

Mujica fared the worst, giving up six hits — four for extra bases — and five runs in the seventh as his ERA ballooned to 15.00. The three runs off Motte in the eighth were unearned.

Evan Gattis had doubles off both Mujica and Motte, driving in three runs. Freddie Freeman was 2-for-2 and drove in two runs.

Westbrook allowed two runs in four innings as he struggled with his control. He walked three and hit a batter in addition to giving up three hits. Of his 66 pitches, 28 missed the strike zone.

The Braves finished with 14 hits, including six doubles and a triple. Ernesto Mejia was 2-for-2 with two RBIs.

NOTES: LHP Eric O’Flaherty made his spring debut for the Braves after missing time with a groin strain. He allowed two hits in the sixth inning, but escaped without being scored on. … Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, who had back surgery Monday in St. Louis for a bulging disk, may be able to rejoin the team for Thursday’s game with the Braves in Jupiter. The Cardinals are off today. … The Braves will play the Miami Marlins tonight in Jupiter, with Kris RHP Medlen getting the start. … The Braves made 10 cuts, with seven of the players non-roster spring invitees — LHP Yohan Flande, LHP Ryan Buchter and RHP Gus Schlosser, C Louis De La Cruz, C Braeden Schlehuber and C Jose Yepez, and 3B Joe Leonard. RHP Cory Rasmus was optioned to Gwinnett and RHPs Juan Jaime and Aaron Northcraff to AA Mississippi.