Julio Teheran off to a strong start for Brewers debut

MILWAUKEE — Manager Craig Counsell didn’t find it all that unusual that the Brewers would start right-hander Julio Teheran against the Giants on Thursday, just about two hours after signing a contract.

“It’s very similar to a trade,” Counsell shrugged. “I think CC Sabathia, who is here tonight, did that. I think we traded for him and he pitched the first day he got here.

Time flies because it was 15 years ago. Sabathia, special assistant to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, was indeed at American Family Field on Thursday to witness Tehran’s rather inspired return to the sport’s biggest stage after an absence of more than two years in the loss. Brewers 5-0 against the Giants.

Plugging a hole in an injury-riddled rotation, Tehran delivered five solid innings while limiting the Giants to one run on four hits (all singles) with a walk and five strikeouts. The match was tighter than the final score would have you believe. LaMonte Wade Jr.’s two-out RBI single in the fifth inning was the only run for either team until the Giants knocked down Tyson Miller for four runs in the eighth. The Brewers had just four hits in a bullpen game for the Giants; 3 2/3 innings were delivered by left-handers, the Brewers’ Achilles’ heel.

Tehran threw 85 pitches and hit 91.7 mph in his first start since April 3, 2021 with the Tigers. A shoulder injury interrupted a formidable big league career spent mostly with the Braves. His five strikeouts were the highest since Tehran struck out six in September 2019, when he was still considered a top-tier starter. In a seven-season span that made it two National League All-Star Teams, Tehran topped 150 innings each year and delivered a 3.64 ERA for Atlanta.

“When I signed the contract (Thursday afternoon), I felt like I knew I was back,” Tehran said. “Today I was really focused. It’s something I’ve done my whole life, performing in front of a lot of people. It was like, ‘This is the place I deserve to be and I worked to be.’ I was going there and competing.

Counsell noticed Tehran’s delivery was closer to a three-quarter slot than he remembered from Atlanta. Giants outfielder Michael Conforto, the former Met who had 30 at-bats against Tehran with Atlanta, also noted the different look.

“He was throwing more four-seam fastballs in the area,” Conforto said. “From what I remember, it was more pellets, and he was going in a bit more. … He pitched pretty well for the first five innings. Four-seam work the other way around seems to work a bit better for him.

Thursday’s outing continued a long stretch for starting pitchers who weren’t on the Brewers’ opening day roster but are now important weapons for a team trying to make it to the other side of a brutal sequence of injuries. Colin Rea and Adrian Houser each delivered 5 1/3 scoreless innings in back-to-back shutout wins over the Astros on Tuesday and Wednesday before Tehran went physical and came on for Game 1 of Milwaukee’s series against the Astros. Giants.

He had become a free agent days earlier when opting out of a minor league contract with the Padres. Tehran was 4-2 with a 5.62 ERA for Triple-A El Paso, including a 3.74 ERA in his last four starts.

“He was throwing the ball correctly. It’s hard to pitch to the moon there,” Brewers general manager Matt Arnold said, a nod to El Paso’s high-altitude, hitting-friendly reputation. “If you’re looking to plug a hole, you could do worse than a two-time All-Star.

“We are still looking. Especially with the tee shot, you have to have it. With the relievers, it’s like, ‘We can find him.’ But finding guys to (start) is hard. We love the experience. And we hear he’s a great guy.

Tehran said the last two years had been “difficult” as he tried to regain his health and find an opportunity with a Major League club. He had stints in the independent ball and in Mexico prior to his minor league deal with the Padres.

“It was part of the process, it was part of the challenge I had,” he said. “I knew that at some point, if I did what I did in previous years, I would be back. I’m a little proud of myself and the work I’ve done to get back into the big leagues.

Says Counsell: “He throws like he knows what he’s doing, which is what we expected.”

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