Freeman's homer helps Teheran outduel Fernandez

Freeman's homer helps Teheran outduel Fernandez

ATLANTA -- Julio Teheran's National League Rookie of the Year resume is not as impressive as the one Jose Fernandez has constructed. But as he nears the end of his first full Major League season, the young right-hander has given the Braves reason to believe he can match up against the game's best pitchers.

In a much-anticipated pitching matchup that actually lived up to its hype, Teheran showed great poise and benefited from a Freddie Freeman first-inning home run that doomed an otherwise dominant Fernandez and gave the Braves all they needed to secure Friday night's 2-1 win over the Marlins.

"I was excited," Teheran said. "I know everybody was talking about it. I just focused on my game and tried to do what I did."

While Teheran allowed just one run over 6 1/3 innings, Fernandez paid for the mistakes he made with two consecutive pitches in the first inning of his first career start against the Braves. These two pitches resulted in two of the three hits he surrendered over six innings.

The recently acquired Elliot Johnson sparked the decisive first inning with a double that put him in position to jog toward the plate when Freeman followed by bouncing his decisive two-run shot off the top of the left-center-field wall.

"I thought [Fernandez] had to battle tonight," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "He gave up that home run on a changeup in the first inning. We're not used to seeing that. But the Braves have a great lineup. They battled him and made him throw a lot of pitches."

Freeman's 17th home run of the season provided the Braves a lead that was ultimately preserved by Anthony Varvaro, who completed two scoreless innings to notch his first career save. Varvaro was handed the closing duties because Craig Kimbrel had pitched each of the three previous days. Left-handed setup man Luis Avilan, who has carried a heavy workload recently, would only have been used if necessary, and right-handed setup man Jordan Walden is still dealing with a sore groin.

"[The save] means we are one step closer to a playoff berth," Varvaro said. "It's cool and all to get into the books. But I'm just looking at it as a team win. As long as we keep collecting them, we'll be able to reach the ultimate goal."

With five straight victories, the Braves have extended their division lead over the Nationals to 14 games. Atlanta's magic number to clinch the National League East stands at 15 with 28 games remaining.

When Teheran makes his postseason debut, he will certainly face a lineup much more daunting than that of the Marlins. But this matchup against Fernandez gave him a taste of what it might be like in October, when he could be introduced to more situations where there is no room for error.

Most of Teheran's stress was experienced during a 32-pitch third inning, which began with Fernandez hitting a triple into the right-center-field gap. Christian Yelich followed with a single and advanced to third base when Teheran walked two of the next four batters he faced.

After receiving a visit from pitching coach Roger McDowell, Teheran escaped the bases-loaded threat unscathed by getting Placido Polanco to line out to center fielder B.J. Upton.

"It was pretty cool to see him work out of the bases-loaded jam," Johnson said. "He really pitched well."

Teheran, who has allowed one run or fewer in six of his past eight starts, totaled just 33 pitches -- one more than he threw in the third inning -- over his final three full innings of the night. His effort was aided by Andrelton Simmons, who added a few more highlight-reel plays to his already long and impressive list.

Simmons ranged to his right and abruptly stopped to field a sharp grounder that bounced off third baseman Chris Johnson's glove. After fielding the ball flat-footed, he showed off his arm with a strong throw that beat Justin Ruggiano to first base. Two batters later, the athletic shortstop robbed Polanco of a single with a catch that nearly resulted in a double play.

"If anybody other than Simmons is playing shortstop, we lose that game," manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

After not facing Fernandez in any of their previous 12 games against the Marlins, the Braves gained a sense of why the 21-year-old right-hander is one of the top candidates for both the NL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award.

The only hit Fernandez surrendered after the first inning was Freeman's double to begin the bottom of the fourth inning. The long drive off the center-field wall led the vibrant Marlins pitcher to smile and playfully ask Freeman, "How do I get you out?"

Freeman's double marked the start of what proved to be a 30-pitch inning for Fernandez. Brian McCann highlighted the scoreless inning with nine foul balls in a 14-pitch at-bat that resulted in one of the eight strikeouts produced by the Marlins right-hander, who had posted a 1.52 ERA in his 15 previous starts.

"I'm [hoping] to see him pitch in the future for a long time," Gonzalez said. "He has fun and he respects the game and respects his opponents. He's pretty darn good."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.