Julio Teheran, Tarik Skubal make Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day roster as starters

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers were forced to make a decision Wednesday about right-hander Julio Teheran: Give him a roster spot or let him walk.

The former two-time All-Star isn’t going anywhere.

The Tigers added Teheran to the 40-man roster, guaranteeing him a spot on the 26-man Opening Day roster, manager AJ Hinch announced Wednesday. Teheran is slated to be in the starting rotation. In a corresponding move, right-hander Spencer Turnbull will start the season on the injured list. He is out for COVID-19 protocols.

“He’s been one of our better starters here in camp from the get-go,” general manager Al Avila said Tuesday morning on MLB Network Radio. “The guy is in tremendous shape. A lot of movement, a lot of command. He’s got a really good wipeout slider and commands it very well. He throws a lot of strikes, quality strikes, and he’s been very good.”

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Left-hander Tarik Skubal, one of the Tigers’ top prospects, will also be in the starting rotation, Hinch said. Lefty Ian Krol and veteran right-hander Erasmo Ramirez will not make the Opening Day roster, but they’ll be available at the alternate training site in Toledo.

On Monday, Teheran opted out of his initial minor-league contract — which he signed Feb. 19 — to become a free agent and sign elsewhere; his move also gave the Tigers 48 hours to make a final choice. After his start Monday against the Toronto Blue Jays, the organization was left with no concerns.

“He’s done everything to put himself in a good position to be a part of us moving forward,” Hinch said. “… He pitches with energy. He’s got a quick arm, velocity has ticked up a little bit from last season. There are lot of things trending in the right direction for him.”

[ Here’s why Julio Teheran looks like his old self with the Tigers this spring ]

Now, Teheran is on a major-league contract with the Tigers. He will earn a $3 million salary with a supplementary $1 million as an incentive for starting at least 20 games.

“I like this team. I like the opportunity they gave me from the beginning,” Teheran said Monday. “Obviously, I was betting on myself because I knew I was going to have a spring training like this. I want to stay with the Tigers because I know this is a really good team.

“There is a lot of talent, and it’s looking good this spring training. Hopefully, we can take it into the season. They have a lot of decisions to make, but that’s out of our control.”

This spring, Teheran has pitched 11 innings across four games, allowing three runs on six hits and one walk. He has 15 strikeouts. He struck out seven batters through four scoreless innings March 17 against the Philadelphia Phillies.

During Monday’s start against the Blue Jays, Teheran gave up a leadoff homer to Marcus Semien but retired his next six batters in order. He registered three strikeouts, using 30 pitches to get through two innings. He left the game with back tightness, but it was only a precaution.

“We didn’t want to risk it. I feel fine,” Teheran said. “I came in and stretched it, and I told the trainer I wish we could re-enter so I could keep pitching. … There’s nothing we need to worry about.”

FINDING HIS WAY: Julio Teheran believes his career revival starts with Tigers

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His fastball has sustained 92 mph — reaching as high as 94 mph — and his slider seems as overwhelming as it did earlier in his career.

“The way I’m pitching, I’m not thinking to make the team,” Teheran said. “I’m thinking about being the guy in the season, helping the team and pitching the way I’ve been pitching to win games. That’s really in my mind.”

[ Watch Teheran’s highlights vs. the Phillies ]

Teheran’s fastball only averaged between 88-89 mph last season with the Los Angeles Angels. He struggled with a 10.05 ERA, 16 walks and 20 strikeouts in 31⅓ innings, by far the worst season of his 10-year MLB career.

After discovering shoulder problems this offseason, Teheran fixed his mechanics. Because of the tweaks to his arm slot and throwing motion, he got his fastball speed and wipeout slider back. He last averaged 92 mph on his fastball in 2016.

“I’m having fun (again),” Teheran told the Free Press last week. “You can see me dancing. That’s why I say 2016, because when I would throw my pitches, I would dance on the mound. That’s fun. That’s how I like to feel when I throw the ball. When you strike somebody out, you have fun because it’s a good result.”

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

Hinch hasn’t officially announced his starting rotation but is expected to include five pitchers to start the season, before going to a six-man crew after a couple of weeks. This means one starter could open in the bullpen.

Those in the mix for what will eventually be six jobs: Teheran, Skubal, Turnbull, Matthew Boyd (Opening Day starter), Jose Urena, Casey Mize and Michael Fulmer. It’s possible Fulmer gets relegated to the bullpen beyond the first part of the season.

[ What Tigers’ Michael Fulmer thinks about coming out of bullpen ]

Teheran spent nine seasons with the Braves (2011-19) before going to Los Angeles. He has a career 3.81 ERA in 239 games (235 starts) across 1,391⅓ innings. He tossed more than 174 innings in seven consecutive seasons, from 2013-19, and topped out at 221 innings in 2014.

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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