LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- One year after exiting Spring Training determined to prove he could succeed at the Major League level, Julio Teheran will enter the upcoming season at the top of Atlanta's injury depleted starting rotation.
Before Saturday's game against the Red Sox, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez officially announced Teheran will start the club's March 31 season opener against the Brewers in Milwaukee. This will be the first Opening Day start for the 23-year-old right-hander.
"I'm happy," Teheran said. "It's a great honor to be the starting pitcher on Opening Day. I just want to say thanks for the opportunity. I have been working hard and it has paid off."
Teheran has stood as the obvious choice to receive this honor since Kris Medlen suffered a season-ending elbow injury on March 9.
"I think he's mature enough to handle it," Gonzalez said. "People tell you it's not that big of a deal. But I think it's a big deal."
Gonzalez opted to have some fun with Teheran when he called him into his office early Saturday morning. Instead of immediately telling him he would be the Opening Day starter, the Braves' manager tried to give Teheran the sense he was in trouble by asking, "What did you do last night?"
"I said I was sleeping last night," Teheran said. "I knew that I didn't do anything last night because I was tired. That was funny."
Teheran gains this honor a little more than a month after he received a six-year, $32.4 million contract extension. The Braves made this commitment based on what they saw as the young hurler went 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA in the 30 starts that encompassed his first full Major League season last year.
"Last year, I was trying to [be] the fifth starter," Teheran said. "This year, when I was working out in the offseason, I was thinking I can be the first one. That gave me more motivation. When I put goals in my mind, that is when I start working harder."
Teheran stood as one of baseball's top overall prospects until he began creating doubt about his potential as he posted a 5.08 ERA in the 26 starts he made for Triple-A Gwinnett in 2012.
As he rebounded in impressive fashion while introducing himself to the Major League level last year, Teheran provided indication that he is mentally strong enough to deal with the inevitable adversity he will face during stretches of his career.
"He's a competitor," Braves catcher Evan Gattis said. "He executes his pitches and he's a winner. He's not afraid of anybody at all."
Gonzalez will wait at least one more day to reveal who will make up the remainder of the four-man rotation the Braves will use through at least the regular season's first seven games.
The recently signed Ervin Santana could make his season debut as early as the April 9 game against the Mets. When Santana is deemed ready, the Braves will begin utilizing a five-man rotation.
Before publicly announcing their plans for the four-man rotation, the Braves will evaluate Freddy Garcia during Sunday afternoon's Grapefruit League start against the Mets.
The Braves have until Monday to determine whether Garcia will receive the $1.5 million he's guaranteed if he is placed on the Opening Day roster. If the 37-year-old is not guaranteed a roster spot, he will opt out of his Minor League contract and become a free agent.
Garcia has struggled in his past two outings. But with Mike Minor sidelined until the second half of April and Medlen and Brandon Beachy sidelined with season-ending elbow injuries, the Braves are not in a position where they can further deplete their starting-pitching depth.
With this in mind, it appears the Braves will begin the season with a four-man starting rotation that consists of Teheran, Alex Wood, Garcia and David Hale. Garcia accounts for 357 of the 404 career starts this quartet has combined to make.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.