The Atlanta Braves are hoping for a bounceback season from a prized prospect to round out their rotation.
If spring training was any indication, Julio Teheran might yet turn into the pitcher he was once cracked up to be.
With a red-hot Justin Upton on his side, Teheran will try to carry his March exhibition momentum into April regular-season success Saturday night when he takes the ball for Atlanta against the visiting Chicago Cubs .
A year ago, Teheran was seen as the future ace of the Braves staff and, in some circles, was touted as the top starting pitching prospect in all of baseball. But great expectations soon gave way to a disappointing season in Triple-A and he was relegated to just two appearances with the big league club in 2012.
Things turned around this spring, however, when the No. 5 starter pitched more like someone at the top of the rotation. In his final Grapefruit League tune up, the rookie right-hander struck out 10 in six hitless innings, capping an exhibition season that saw him give up just seven hits over 26 innings while striking out 35.
"My first goal was to make the team from spring training and I did," Teheran said. "That was my motivation."
In six spring starts, he had an ERA of 1.04.
"You have to give Julio credit," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He had some adversity last year and is the better for it. He's matured."
Of course, if Upton keeps swinging the bat like he has in the season's first four games, Teheran won't need to be nearly that fine.
Upton hit his third home run Friday to back a strong performance by Mike Minor as Atlanta (3-1) won the series opener 4-1. The January trade for the left fielder has paid immediate dividends, adding depth to an already potent lineup.
"It's even fun to see him hit in the cage," said Andrelton Simmons . "You just watch and try to pick up stuff from him. He's really talented, and he has a nice swing. Everything is nice and smooth. He's going to do this all year."
Upton and the rest of the Braves lineup will look to continue their power surge against Carlos Villanueva , who will be making his first start for Chicago (2-2) after coming over from Toronto in another January deal, albeit one a bit less heralded.
The right-hander parlayed a 7-7 season for the Blue Jays into a two-year, $10 million contract with the Cubs. Comfortable both starting and relieving, he finds himself in the rotation as a result of Matt Garza beginning the year on the disabled list with a strained left lat.
Villanueva went five innings in his final spring training start, allowing four hits and one earned run.
"I have been very pleased with the (spring) results. I'm getting a lot more groundballs ... I'm happy and healthy and that's all that really matters," he said.
While Villanueva will likely have his hands full with Justin Upton , big brother B.J. continues to struggle for Atlanta. The elder Upton is 0 for 14 with nine strikeouts batting in the fifth spot.
Chicago's offense has been more productive, but not by much. It has totaled 16 hits, and the top four spots in the order Friday went just 1 for 14.
"Nobody's swinging the bats at all right now," manager Dale Sveum said. "Somebody's going to have to step up now and get hot. Hopefully it's the whole team, but we don't have a lot going offensively now."
|March 31, 2013||Scott Baker||60-Day DL||Strained right elbow|
|March 31, 2013||Darwin Barney||15-Day DL||Left knee laceration|
|March 27, 2013||Arodys Vizcaino||60-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|March 22, 2013||Ian Stewart||15-Day DL||Strained left quad|
|March 22, 2013||Matt Garza||15-Day DL||Strained left lat|
|March 03, 2013||Matt Garza||Day-to-Day||Strained left lat|
|March 27, 2013||Jonny Venters||15-Day DL||Sprained left elbow|
|March 22, 2013||Brandon Beachy||15-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|March 22, 2013||Brian McCann||15-Day DL||Recovery from right shoulder surgery|
|March 22, 2013||Paul Janish||15-Day DL||Recovery from left shoulder surgery|
ATLANTA (AP) -- B.J. and Justin Upton never had the nerve to imagine an ending like the one they provided Saturday night - not even after they both moved to the Atlanta Braves this offseason.
One brother homers to tie it in the ninth. The other homers to win it.
"We'd never dreamed of being on the same team, much less coming out here and doing that," B.J. Upton said. "It's exciting."
B.J. led off the ninth inning with a homer and Justin followed one out later with another long ball that lifted the Braves past embattled Chicago Cubs closer Carlos Marmol for a 6-5 victory Saturday night.
Justin went 3 for 5 with two RBIs. He also homered in the first and now has five homers in Atlanta's first five games.
To have mother Yvonne and father Manny Upton in town all week and at the game for the brothers' heroics only made the night more special.
"Ah, man, I think right now, in my mind, it's No. 1," Justin Upton said. "It was exhilarating out there. We had a great time with it."
For B.J. Upton, the first week had been tough at the plate. He was 0 for 16 with nine strikeouts before his two-out infield single chased Cubs starter Carlos Villanueva in the seventh.
Feeling less pressure as he faced Marmol on a 3-1 count, B.J. Upton crushed the fifth fastball he saw into the left-field seats.
"I know it's there, but to get that first one out of the way, it's kind of the monkey off the back," he said. "Hopefully things will get rolling here."
The Braves rallied from a 5-1 deficit with three runs in the eighth off Kyuji Fujikawa and two in the ninth off Marmol.
Justin Upton 's solo shot in the first inning made it 1-all. He followed with leadoff double in the eighth and scored the first of three Atlanta runs that cut the lead to 5-4.
Marmol's blown save wasted what would have been a victory for Villanueva.
The Cubs had taken a 5-1 lead on Nate Schierholtz 's RBI single, Anthony Rizzo 's two-run homer, Luis Valbuena 's solo shot and Wellington Castillo's RBI single, but Chicago left the bases loaded against Anthony Varvaro and Cory Gearrin in the eighth.
Eric O'Flaherty (1-0) pitched a scoreless ninth despite allowing a hit and walk.
Marmol (0-1) gave up two hits, both solo homers, in one-third of an inning. His ERA ballooned to 27.00.
Marmol had already been through a tough week. He was pulled from a save situation after facing four batters and not recording an out in Chicago's win at Pittsburgh on opening day, but he earned a save on Thursday against the Pirates despite giving up two ninth-inning runs.
Marmol blames poor location of his pitches with his most recent struggles.
"I'm trying, I'm trying," he said. "I don't lack confidence. They're hitting my pitches, though. My pitches were working. I just missed the pitch."
The Upton brothers, major offseason acquisitions for Atlanta, became the 25th tandem of brothers to homer in the same major league game and the first since Adam and Andy LaRoche accomplished the feat for Pittsburgh on June 17, 2009.
Making his first start since signing with the Cubs as a free agent in the offseason, Villanueva gave up six hits, one run and two walks in 6 2-3 innings. He struck out six.
Rizzo was 1 for 14 when his second homer of the season gave the Cubs a 4-1 lead. Schierholtz followed with a double and scored from second on Castillo's single to make it 5-1.
Villanueva began the game with a 12-18 and a 5.33 ERA in 44 career starts with Milwaukee and Toronto, but the right-hander settled down after Upton's solo shot made it 1-all in the first.
Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran allowed eight hits, five runs and one walk with two strikeouts in five innings. The 22-year-old right-hander dropped to 1-2 with a 5.79 ERA in five career starts.
Valbuena's first homer put the Cubs up 2-1 in the fourth. After the Cubs' three-run fifth, Teheran left for a pinch-hitter.
Chicago loaded the bases in the eighth off Varvaro, but earned nothing for the effort. After second baseman Uggla threw to catcher Gerald Laird for a forceout, reliever Gearrin retired Starlin Castro on a flyout and struck out Rizzo.
That set the stage for Atlanta's three-run eighth. Freddie Freeman 's RBI single scored Justin Upton , and Ramiro Pena followed with a two-run single to make it 5-4 off Fujikawa.
Then the Uptons stepped in against Marmol, but Justin Upton quickly pointed out that the Braves have plenty of power in their lineup besides him and B.J.
"If you don't get it done, you look to the next guy," he said. "You pass the baton and hope he picks you up. We've done a good job of that out of the gate. That's something we're going to really have to do for each other throughout the year."
NOTES: The teams combined for 25 hits. ... Braves SS Andrelton Simmons was out of the lineup with a sprained left thumb. ... B.J. Upton batted in Simmons' leadoff spot. ... Pena took Simmons' spot in the field and went 1 for 4 as the No. 8 hitter. ... Teheran had his first career hit with a single in the third.