Julio Teheran proud to pitch second for Colombia, regardless of opponent

Julio Teheran, who will start for Colombia against Canada in the WBC, has a 47-40 career record for the Braves with a 3.39 ERA. Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

MIAMI -- Julio Teheran has been the Opening Day starting pitcher for the Atlanta Braves the past three seasons, and it's likely he will extend that streak to four next month.

But the two-time National League All-Star must adjust his thinking while competing for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic. Instead of being tapped to start the first WBC game in the nation's history, the 26-year-old right-hander was asked to yield to an American League All-Star, 28-year-old Chicago White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana.

Colombia manager Luis Urueta opted to start Quintana in the team's opener Friday night against the host United States, so Teheran had to settle for the second game -- against Canada at noon ET Saturday. Urueta, a coach in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, said the decision was made in order to align his pitchers against hitters who aren't familiar with them. Teheran, an NL pitcher, had faced more of the United States hitters on a regular basis than Quintana, according to Urueta.

"I think they're both quality starters in the big leagues," Urueta said. "They both have unbelievable talent. At this moment, they're our top two players, and just deciding which pitcher was going to face each team, it was more on a scouting report of the opponent. ... Every time you have a first time on confrontation between a pitcher and a hitter, I think the advantage is for the pitcher. That's basically what made the decision. It was a hard decision, knowing that both guys are qualified to pitch to the U.S."

If Teheran was disappointed not to be selected to start against the host Americans in prime time, he wasn't letting it show.

"It doesn't matter if I'm pitching the first one or the second one," Teheran said. "I know Quintana is a really good pitcher, and that's the decision of the manager, and we've got to respect that."

Although Teheran won't pitch against the U.S. or the other tournament favorite, the Dominican Republic, that doesn't mean he isn't facing an important task. Any win will automatically earn Colombia a berth in the next World Baseball Classic -- and thus avoid having to win a qualifying tournament to do so.

It also gives him a chance to go head-to-head against Braves teammate Freddie Freeman, who is playing first base for Canada.

"Freeman is one of the best hitters of the game," Teheran said. "I've been playing with him the last [six] years, and he's really tough to face. I'm just going to go out there and compete, and we'll see what's going to happen."

Teheran said it will be an emotional experience to take the field with the name of his home country across the front of his jersey, whatever opponent he faces.

"I feel so much responsibility to represent Colombia," he said. "It's a lot bigger than what you are used to. It's not the same representing a country as an organization. But trying to control those emotions will be the key."

Colombia's pitching staff also boasts 28-year-old right-hander Sugar Ray Marimon, a second cousin of Teheran who played alongside him with the Braves in 2015. Teheran and Marimon grew up together in Cartagena, a city that produced 18 players and coaches on this Colombia roster.

"We come from a city where a lot of baseball is played," Marimon said. "Cartagena is a city known for baseball. In addition to soccer, in that city people breathe baseball. ... This is an opportunity for people to get to know us as players ... so that they don't just see soccer, but also baseball, and to continue its development in our country."

Ernesto Frieri, a 31-year-old right-hander, lends seven seasons of MLB experience to the Colombia pitching staff, and he echoes Teheran and Marimon on the significance of the opportunity for their homeland.

"This is a showcase, not only for me -- for all of us, and for many who are not here, to show that Colombian baseball is at a competitive level as that of the big, powerful countries," Frieri said. "Colombian baseball has grown, and we are here to give the best of ourselves so that doors keep opening up for those that are coming behind us to have opportunities."