Julio Teheran named Braves' Opening Day starter

After putting nearly every other pitcher on the staff on the shelf, the Braves have named pitcher Julio Teheran their Opening Day starter.

With the rest of the rotation looking more like a MASH unit than a professional baseball team, the Atlanta Braves told second-year pitcher Julio Teheran on Saturday that he would be their Opening Day starter, according to the MLB.com.

And while unforeseen -- and highly unfortunate -- circumstances led to him getting the nod, having Teheran as the Opening Day starter is not something that was totally outside the realm of possibility at some point in his career. Just maybe not so soon. But with Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy gone for the year with ligament damage and newly acquired hurler Ervin Santana still throwing himself into regular-season shape, the Braves had to turn to one of their youngest pitchers to take the mound on the first day of the season.

Coming off his first full year in the majors, the Colombian managed to produce 170 strikeouts in 185⅔ innings while holding opponents to a 1.174 WHIP and a 3.20 ERA that would vault him into fifth place in the NL Rookie of the Year race last year. And it's that, along with his seven full years in the Braves' system -- he signed with them as a 16-year-old amateur free agent in 2007 -- that has his manager Fredi Gonzalez believing he's up to the task despite being only 23.

"I think he's mature enough to handle it," Gonzalez told reporters after the announcement, which he made no attempt to downplay as significant. "People tell you it's not that big of a deal. But I think it's a big deal."

Teheran agrees with that sentiment, telling reporters, "I'm happy. 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."

It's that hard work, more than the injuries of his teammates, that has allowed him to rise so rapidly up the ranks of one of the better teams in the league.

"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."

His hard work and competitiveness hasn't been lost on his teammates, either. They seem to be openly supporting the decision, and not just because of the circumstances that led up to it.

"He's a competitor," Braves catcher Evan Gattis told reporters in reference to Teheran. "He executes his pitches and he's a winner. He's not afraid of anybody at all."

Hopefully, for everyone's sake, he won't have to be afraid of the injury bug that's plagued the rest of the team, either.

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