The Atlanta Braves have made it clear they are rebuilding this season, and they have also made it clear that during that rebuild, Julio Teheran will need to be the team’s ace.

Atlanta has groomed Teheran for the last three years in hopes that he could be the No. 1 pitcher in the rotation. The deal that sent Shelby Miller to the Arizona Diamondbacks in December guaranteed he would get that chance.

The Braves are trusting Teheran to anchor an inexperienced staff while their young pitchers develop. He needs to justify that trust by getting back to his level of play from a couple of years ago.

The right-hander flashed ace potential during his All-Star season in 2014. That year, he posted a 2.89 ERA while striking out 186 batters and walking just 51 in 33 starts. He regressed last year, finishing with a 4.04 ERA, 171 strikeouts and 73 walks in 33 starts.

The Braves dealt Miller believing Teheran could get back to his 2014 form and shoulder the burden of being the staff’s top starter. Advanced metrics back up that belief.

Teheran’s WAR in 2015 was 1.5, according to His WAR of 3.2 as a rookie in 2013 and 3.9 in 2014 make last year look like an aberration. also rated him as 15 runs above average (RAA) in 2013, with an 18 RAA in 2014. Again, his performance last year looks like an anomaly instead of the norm. His RAA in 2015 was minus-one.

Julio Teheran Statistics: 2013-15

2013 14-8 3.20 1.174 170 45 3.2 15
2014 14-13 2.89 1.081 186 51 3.9 18
2015 11-8 4.04 1.306 171 73 1.5 -1

Looking at his traditional and advanced statistics together, his numbers were worse across the board last year compared to his first two years in the majors. It’s a small sample size, but it’s reasonable to think that 2016 will look less like last year and more like his first two seasons.

Teheran is a strikeout pitcher with good velocity and the ability to overpower hitters when he has command. Last year, he struggled with his command, surrendering 19 more earned runs and 22 more walks than the year before.

He has been in control in limited work this spring. He needed only 35 pitches to get through four scoreless innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday, allowing just two men on base.

The Braves desperately need him to return to form, because if he struggles, the team’s other options for a No. 1 starter are thin.

After shipping away Miller and Alex Wood last year, Teheran leads a rotation that will feature Matt Wisler, Bud Norris, Manny Banuelos and likely Mike Foltynewicz when he eventually finishes recovering from rib surgery.

Norris is a journeyman. Banuelos underwent Tommy John surgery early in his career, which makes him a health concern.

Wisler and Foltynewicz are both talented young pitchers, but they lack Teheran’s experience.

Young arms litter the Atlanta farm system, but Aaron Blair, Lucas Sims and Tyrell Jenkins aren’t ready to be major league starters yet.

If Teheran can’t handle going against opponents’ top starters on a consistent basis, Atlanta may have to consider dealing for another high-quality arm.

The likelihood a team deals a true ace to the Braves without asking for some of the top talent in the Atlanta farm system is slim. The chances the Braves agree to such a deal are even slimmer.

The Braves’ best combination of talent and experience is Teheran. Their wealth of minor league pitchers may hold a future ace, but the organization won’t know that this season.

So for now, the Braves have placed their hopes on Teheran. They are content to sit near the bottom of the National League East standings again this season, so he doesn’t have to be a 20-win pitcher.

They just need him to prove that giving him the top spot in the rotation was the right choice.

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