Julio Tehran is a big leaguer. That’s true because he’s pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers now, not the Staten Island Ferryhawks like he did last season. But it is both an identity and an existence. Many players wear a major league uniform, but not all of them have the energy to match.
“He’s been on the MLB mound a lot, he’s been in the MLB at 20, and some of those things give you hints,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “Sometimes you try these guys, you never know. I don’t blame the other players, but he’s a big leaguer.”
The Brewers, who play four games with the Mets at Citi Field this week, need every reliable player they can get. Their offense was one of the worst in the National League, and it wobbled their normally strong pitching staff. They did not expect to keep Tehran healthy.
The 32-year-old Tehran has started six games, conceding no more than two goals and a 1.53 ERA. Nine years ago, with the Atlanta Braves, he got off to a similar start. He posted a 1.47 ERA in his first six starts and was named an All-Star for the first time. Another election was held in 2016.
During that period, he was one of baseball’s most reliable starters. Between 2013 and 2019, only three other players, Mike Leake, Jon Lester and fellow Colombian Jose Quintana, started at least 30 games each season.
The trick, Tehran said, was learning his pace throughout the game and the season. He learned that lesson from Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, who took him to dinner early in his career when the Braves were playing in Boston. Sometimes Martinez told him that he should throw in contact to conserve energy for when he needed it most.
“He told me that, and I thought, ‘Of course,'” Tehran said.
But in 2020, a non-pitching team stole Tehran’s energy. That’s because he contracted the coronavirus at home with his family in Atlanta during the shutdown. His new team, the Los Angeles Angels, has gotten a much worse version of Tehran.
“I recovered and everything was fine, but I lost so much weight that I had to report it to Anaheim,” said Tehran, who lost about 15 pounds. “And they asked me, ‘Hey, how are you feeling?'” It was not. “
In 10 games with the Angels, nine of which were starts, Tehran posted a 10.05 ERA, easily his best performance in a major (minimum 30 innings) in 2020. He signed a minor league contract with the Tigers the following spring, but suffered an injury. He hurt his shoulder in Detroit, where he started once, and never pitched there again.
That winter, Tehran pitched for Carlos Castillo, a former major leaguer who now runs a training center in Miami. His fastball reached 79 mph.
“I told him to let it break, and he said, ‘Let it break,'” Castillo said in a phone interview. “His agent said, ‘What am I supposed to do here?'” But I think part of it was in his head. he was stressed. “
Tehran reached the majors in 2011, but before the rise of pitch-tracking data that gave them more precise and personalized strategies for pitching to work best. Driveline’s training method helped Tehran regain lost speed, and Castillo worked with him to understand the analysis of his pitches.
Trusting Castillo to rethink his arsenal, Tehran added a cutter, changed the grip on the changeup and lowered the angle of the arm to better conceal the ball. Off-season, he moved to the Ferryhawks, a first-year franchise in the independent Atlantic League, when he was still short of a minor league deal for 2022.
Tehran did not complain and was determined to work hard and remind the scouts that he still existed. But when his career set him apart and the attention he got, he was embarrassed.
“When my teammates said, ‘We used to play video games together,’ it was cool for them, but for me, it was like, ‘This is my underperformance.'” said Tehran. .
“The team is like, ‘You’re our man, let’s pitch on Opening Day, the guy who started six times on Opening Day for the Atlanta Braves is now starting Opening Day!’ ’ And for me, it wasn’t that exciting because I didn’t want to do that. “
Tehran started six games for Staten Island, posting a 1.60 ERA and more strikeouts than innings pitched. He still didn’t get an offer, but he took it as a sign that baseball was rejecting him and pushing him to quit. Before doing so, he considered trying out the Mexican League purely for fun, without worrying about his future in the game.
“I didn’t care,” he said. “I didn’t watch MLB, so I didn’t expect anyone to call me. It was just fun to be there.”
Perhaps the baseball gods needed to prove how much Tehran wanted him back — because when he stopped caring, someone called. The San Diego Padres signed Tehran to a minor league deal in February, joining the rotation of the AAA-class El Paso Chihuahuas.
When Tehran exercised the out clause for the first time in early May, no one signed Tehran. By the end of the month, however, a spate of injuries had given the Brewers a chance. Tehran allowed only one earned run in the two starting games at the end of May, but has remained stable in June.
“He was on life support for the entire game and getting back on it is a huge credit to him,” said Brewers general manager Matt Arnold. “It means a lot to them and it means a lot to our team to have those guys back here.”
Tehran has yet to step up. After shutting out five innings last Wednesday against Arizona, he became one of 260 major leaguers to pitch at least 30 innings this season. According to Sports Info Solutions, 246 people in this group had an average harder fastball than Tehran, who putters at 139.6 mph. But a veteran’s knowledge goes a long way.
“He gave us a chance to beat all the starting pitchers,” outfielder Christian Yelich said. “He’s been out of the big leagues for a while, but it’s great to be back and having success. So really, that’s how you survive long in the big leagues: reinvent yourself, adjust, succeed. I keep finding ways.”
That’s how big leaguers stay big leaguers over time.