There was never really any question about whether Julio Teheran would be granted the chance to make a third consecutive Opening Day start, but the Braves were certainly encouraged to watch Teheran spend the past month looking like a guy deserving of this honor.
Teheran will become the fifth Atlanta pitcher to make three consecutive Opening Day starts when he takes the Turner Field mound for Monday's regular-season opener against the Nationals at 4:10 p.m. ET. The 25-year-old right-hander will carry the confidence he gained as he spent Spring Training showing he is quite capable of bouncing back from last year's disappointing season.
"It feels good whenever you are pitching well," Teheran said. "That's what you want to take to the rubber when the regular season begins. I feel that I'm ready for the regular season. Everything that was working before is working now. I'm good now."
Teheran certainly looked better as he posted a 2.01 ERA and issued just two walks over 22 1/3 Grapefruit League innings. He surrendered just three runs over his final three starts, and each of those were tallied during an inning marred by Nick Swisher's lack of range at first base and Hector Olivera's inexperience in left field.
"His past three or four starts, his command has been impeccable," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's pitched in, and his breaking ball has been nails. That's good to see as we head into the regular season."
Getting back to commanding the inner part of the plate with his two-seamer against left-handers will be something Teheran will need to focus on throughout this season. As he posted a 4.04 ERA over 33 starts last year, he allowed left-handed hitters to produce a .300 batting average and .893 OPS against him. Right-handed hitters were limited to a .207 batting average and .583 OPS.
Teheran made numerous adjustments last year and ended up allowing one earned run or fewer over six of his final 12 starts he made after moving back to the first-base side of the pitching rubber. This aided him in his efforts to prevent the two-seam fastball from sneaking back over the middle of the plate against left-handed hitters.
When Teheran produced a 2.89 ERA in 2014, he surrendered a .587 OPS to right-handers and a .687 OPS to lefties.
"It was just a matter of mechanics and something that he has focused on changing," Gonzalez said. "He has had success against left-handed hitters in the past."
Teheran joins Phil Niekro, Rick Mahler, Greg Maddux and Derek Lowe as the only pitchers in Atlanta history who have made three consecutive Opening Day starts. But the Braves' current ace stands as the only member of this group to do so before the age of 30.
This will mark the first time Teheran has enjoyed this experience in front of a home crowd. He surrendered two runs over six innings while making his first Opening Day start in Milwaukee on March 31, 2014. Last year, he limited the Marlins to one run over six innings at Marlins Park.