3/1/2014 6:33 P.M. ET
Command of slider high priority for Teheran
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
VIERA, Fla. -- When Julio Teheran came to Spring Training last year, he was in the process of gaining comfort with his slider, a pitch he had started throwing more frequently while pitching in the Dominican Winter League a few months earlier.
Teheran's slider occasionally proved to be a weapon as he went 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA in the 30 starts he made as a rookie. But the 23-year-old right-hander is attempting to prove more consistent with this breaking pitch that helped him complete two scoreless innings as he made his Grapefruit League season debut in Saturday's 16-15 loss to the Nationals at Space Coast Stadium.
"He had all winter to work on it," Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said. "Obviously going into the winter we had the understanding that it needs to be consistent and he worked on it over the winter. It was a little tough today with the wind and the mound. But it's coming along good."
Making his first start since a disappointing effort in Game 3 of last year's National League Division Series against the Dodgers, Teheran used his slider to get Anthony Rendon to look at a third strike during a perfect first inning that concluded with Freddie Freeman gloving Bryce Harper's sharp liner.
With his fastball resting between 92-95 mph, Teheran retired the first five batters he faced before surrendering consecutive two-out singles ahead of a groundout that ended the second inning and his successful debut.
Teheran does not seem bothered by the fact that he will make his first two spring starts against the Nationals. He will face the division rivals again Thursday night at Champion Stadium.
"I just want to try to do what I will do in the [regular] season," Teheran said. "I just need to go in there and compete. If I've got to show them everything I have, I've got to do it."
Stellar at short, Simmons seeks to better his swing
VIERA, Fla. -- Now that he has spent the past two year's establishing himself as arguably baseball's best defensive shortstop, Andrelton Simmons is focused on developing the comfort that will allow him to be more consistent at the plate.
"I'm still working on my swing, trying to be more loose," said Simmons, who hit an RBI single in the Braves' nine-run fifth inning in Saturday's 16-15 loss to the Nationals at Space Coast Stadium.
Given that he compiled just 203 of his 1,042 Minor League plate appearances above the Class A Advanced level, Simmons has been forced to develop his offensive approach at the Major League level. But the 24-year-old shortstop provided some encouragement as he batted .248 with 17 home runs last year.
As he attempts to become a more complete player in the Grapefruit League season, Simmons will attempt to improve his plate discipline and develop a more relaxed swing.
"His natural swing is a shouldery, kind of down and across," Atlanta hitting coach Greg Walker said. "We're trying to get a little looser so it will flow down the line a little longer. He'll get it and when he does, he's going to be really, really good."
While Simmons' offensive game is a work in progress, he appeared to be heading in the right direction as he batted .255 with nine home runs and a .789 OPS after last year's All-Star break.
"He'll fight you and he's got great hand-eye coordination," Walker said. "He'll put the barrel of the bat on the ball. He just needs a more consistent swing pattern. Once he gets that, he'll hit for average and power. He's still got some work to do."
Fredi concerned with relievers' wildness
VIERA, Fla. -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has said he is keeping his options open as he plans for who might be in his bullpen at the beginning of the year. But it's safe to say he would have liked to have avoided having to watch a number of these candidates pitch during Saturday afternoon's 16-15 loss to the Nationals at Space Coast Stadium.
Ryan Buchter, Anthony Varvaro, Mark Lamm, Juan Jaime and Wirfin Obispo combined to issue 11 walks in a span of four innings (the third through the sixth). Lamm is the only member of this group who has not been considered a legit candidate for one of the spots in Atlanta's bullpen.
"You still want guys to pound the strike zone and we didn't do that," Gonzalez said. "After [Julio] Teheran, we had those middle innings where we were walking a couple guys an inning. I think I made three or four pitching changes [in the middle of an inning]. That doesn't happen very often in Spring Training."
Buchter entered camp with the potential to begin the season as a left-handed specialist. But his candidacy was further weakened as he issued a walk and allowed a pair of runs in Saturday's third inning. Both of the left-handed batters he faced -- Denard Span and Bryce Harper -- reached safely. Span singled up the middle and Harper drew a walk.
Varvaro allowed three hits and issued a walk while recording just one out before being replaced in the fourth inning by Lamm, who issued three walks and surrendered two hits while recording just two outs. After Jaime walked two and allowed a run in the fifth, Obispo issued four walks and notched just one out in Washington's five-run sixth inning.
In first big league camp, La Stella impressing Walker
VIERA, Fla. -- As Braves hitting coach Greg Walker watched Tommy La Stella take batting practice at Space Coast Stadium on Saturday morning, he said he was encouraged by what he saw and hoped the promising young second baseman would begin to get more comfortable as he progressed through his first Major League Spring Training.
Walker's wish was granted as La Stella recorded hits in each of the first three at-bats he recorded during Saturday afternoon's 16-15 loss to the Nationals. La Stella doubled in the third inning and produced singles in each of the next two innings.
"I think the first few at-bats I had, I felt like they were good at-bats," said La Stella, who went 3-for-6 on Saturday. "I was taking some close pitches. I wasn't offering much at bad pitches. But my swing was a little bit off. It was a little bit choppy through the zone. But it felt a little bit better today."
With five hits through 11 spring at-bats, La Stella has verified the glowing reports that developed as he hit .343 with a .422 on-base percentage for Double-A Mississippi last year.
La Stella's success has at least positioned him for a potential call to the Majors this season. But he does not view his time in big league camp simply as an opportunity to make an impression on Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and his coaching staff.
"I really don't concern myself with showing too much," La Stella said. "I think that is kind of the wrong mindset for me. It's not about showing, it's about improving every day."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.