How Julio Teheran is making a case for Detroit Tigers’ roster: ‘Like my All-Star season’

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Right-hander Julio Teheran looks like a pitcher reborn.

His fastball velocity averaged 92 mph in his three innings for the Detroit Tigers on Friday, and he maxed out at 93.4 mph. The 30-year-old recorded 10 swings-and-misses, including five with his slider and three with his two-seam fastball.

All three of his strikeouts came from his slider.

“My slider is the best it’s been in a while,” Teheran said Friday. “The last time I felt my slider was like this was my 2016 All-Star season. That’s the kind of confidence I have right now. I feel like I can throw my pitches anytime I want. My command is there. Just a different game when you have everything working.”

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Last year, Teheran pitched in 10 games (nine starts) with a career-worst 10.05 ERA and 1.755 WHIP for the Los Angeles Angels. He gave up 35 earned runs and 12 home runs, with 20 walks to 16 strikeouts, in 31⅓ innings. His fastball velocity reached an all-time low, averaging 89.2 mph.

These numbers were surprising, considering Teheran possessed a 3.67 ERA, a 1.211 WHIP and 1,204 strikeouts across 1,360 innings in nine seasons with the Atlanta Braves from 2011-19. During that span, he made two All-Star Game appearances.

Teheran was left to sign a minor-league contract with the Tigers. If he makes the team, he will earn $3 million, with an additional $1 million as an incentive for starting at least 20 games.

“There were a lot of eyes on his stuff at the very beginning, and it’s proving in the first two outings to be better than in the last 12 months,” manager AJ Hinch said Friday. “He’ll be out there in the next five days, whether he starts or comes in second, and he’s going to get another three or four innings to give us a look and give himself a chance to make our team.

“We don’t have to make a decision (yet), so we’re not coming to any sort of conclusion, but he’s done everything we’ve asked in the first two starts.”

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For Teheran, his success is refreshing.

It wasn’t long ago he tested positive for COVID-19 just before the Angels began summer camp in July, a prelude to the shortened season after spring training was nixed by virus concerns. He lost his typical strength as a result, and then he didn’t pitch in the majors until Aug. 5.

This time, Teheran gets a normal ramp up.

“Obviously for me, it’s different because I’m trying to make the team,” Teheran said. “I’m showing them that I want to stay here. But it’s good to have a long spring training, getting to build up. That’s something that works better because my whole career has been like that.”

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For Teheran to make the Tigers, Hinch said he needs to show similar results for the remainder of spring training. He gave up two runs in the second inning Friday while working out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam. Still, it was an all-around solid performance.

Teheran owns a 3.60 ERA, five strikeouts and one walk across two games and five innings this spring.

If his improved command and velocity continue, the Tigers’ rotation should get a significant boost from Teheran.

“He’s healthy,” Hinch said. “And I don’t think we’re going to see his stuff decline from start to start. You want to see him maintain that. … It’s really how he factors in, in that he can be a central figure on our pitching staff.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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