LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Julio Teheran was relegated to a relief role during last year’s postseason, and there’s reason to wonder if he’ll still be in Atlanta’s rotation by the end of the upcoming season. But the injury-plagued Braves had little choice but to give their veteran yet another Opening Day start.
Braves manager Brian Snitker made it official on Monday afternoon, confirming that Teheran will start the team’s season opener on March 28 in Philadelphia. Though this became the only clear option over the past couple weeks, the possibility of the right-hander gaining a sixth consecutive Opening Day start seemed quite remote at the start of Spring Training.
“The way everything has transpired, he’s a natural fit right now,” Snitker said. “He’s been through it, and he’s been really good on Opening Days.”
Teheran became the only fit for this honor once it became clear projected Opening Day starter Mike Foltynewicz would begin the season on the injured list. Even if Kevin Gausman and Sean Newcomb had avoided the struggles they’ve experienced this spring, it would have been disrespectful to give the ball to somebody other than the guy who has annually served as Atlanta’s Opening Day starter dating back to 2014.
Teheran will join Warren Spahn as the only pitchers in Braves history to make as many as six consecutive Opening Day starts. Spahn (10), Phil Niekro (eight) and Greg Maddux (seven) are the franchise’s only pitchers to start at least six season openers.
Left shoulder inflammation is preventing Clayton Kershaw from making a ninth consecutive Opening Day start for the Dodgers, so Teheran will own the Majors' longest active streak.
“When they tell you, you are going to be the Opening Day [starter], obviously you are going to feel happy,” Teheran said. “It’s the sixth time they have told me I’m going to be the Opening Day [starter]. It’s something you’ve got to work for, and I’m glad they made that decision and they put me in that spot.”
Teheran certainly didn’t anticipate being back in this spot after he produced a career-high 11.4 percent walk rate and posted a 3.94 ERA over 31 regular-season starts last year. Another disappointing season would be especially bad for the 28-year-old hurler, who is entering the final guaranteed season of his contract.
“He’s been very dedicated, determined and focused all spring,” Snitker said. “He’s been working his tail off, and he’s kind of on a mission.”
Teheran arrived at Spring Training with 10 extra pounds of muscle, and a week into camp, his bid to prove more consistent led him to ditch the windup. The early results have been encouraging as he has posted a 3.00 ERA while recording 16 strikeouts and issuing just one walk over 12 Grapefruit League innings.
Given the experience he’s gained while producing a 2.73 ERA over his five previous Opening Day starts, Teheran should be able to mentally handle the raucous environment that will surround him as Phillies fans welcome Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and some of the club’s other big offseason additions to Philadelphia.
Of course, more important than handling the crowd will be handling Harper, who has hit .450 with eight homers and a 1.702 OPS over 52 career plate appearances against Teheran.
“Obviously, the first time I went on Opening Day, I was kind of nervous," Teheran said. "But I know what to do and I know how everything is going to be. It’s the first game of the season, and there are a lot of expectations for our team. We obviously say we want to start the season the right way.”