WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Zack Greinke, Major League Baseball’s active leader with 459 career starts, will make No. 460 on Opening Day for the Astros when they play the A’s in Oakland on April 1, manager Dusty Baker announced Monday morning.
The decision to start Greinke in the opener comes as no surprise, considering he’s easily the most accomplished starting pitcher on Houston’s roster. Justin Verlander has started the past three Opening Days for the Astros, including last year, when he injured his arm and later had to undergo Tommy John surgery after suffering an additional elbow injury during rehab work.
It will be the fifth Opening Day assignment for Greinke, who started for the Royals in 2010 and the D-backs in ’16, '17 and ’19. He’s never won on Opening Day, though, going 0-1 with an 8.20 ERA. That included two starts with the D-backs in which he gave up seven earned runs (’16, ‘19) each.
“It wasn’t a tough decision,” Baker said. “Either way, it would have been Greinke and then Framber [Valdez]. … After Opening Day, it’s no big deal. Some guys make a big deal out of Opening Day. I’ve seen that happen.”
Baker said Greinke is away from camp for a few days for personal reasons and won’t make his scheduled Grapefruit League start on Tuesday.
Valdez, who was the Astros’ best starting pitcher last year (5-3, 3.57 ERA, 1.12 WHIP), fractured the ring finger on his throwing hand (left) on March 2 in his first Grapefruit League start against the Mets and has been out since. The only update the club has provided in the last two weeks is that he was seeking a second opinion for a course of treatment.
The only other pitcher on Houston’s active roster who has started on Opening Day is Jake Odorizzi, who was signed to a two-year deal on March 9. He’s been working out with the club since Wednesday and has yet to pitch in a Grapefruit League game. Odorizzi started on Opening Day for the Twins in 2019.
Greinke, 37, is entering the final year of his contract with the Astros, who acquired him at the Trade Deadline in 2019. He went 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA in 10 starts down the stretch for the Astros that year and started Game 7 of the World Series, carrying a shutout into the seventh inning against the Nats before being pulled. Washington rallied to win against Houston’s bullpen.
Last year, Greinke went 3-3 with a 4.03 ERA in a club-high 12 starts in the regular season. He walked just nine batters in 67 innings and didn’t allow more than two walks in any of his 12 starts. He became the second pitcher in Major League history to post a walk rate below four percent and a strikeout rate above 20 percent at age 36 or older, joining Curt Schilling in 2004-05.
After posting a 1.84 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in his first five starts last year, Greinke wasn’t as good in his final seven outings, dropping to a 5.73 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP. The Astros were 4-8 in games he started last year in the regular season.
Greinke is the fifth former Cy Young Award winner to start on Opening Day for the Astros, having won it with the Royals in 2009. Verlander, who won the award in ’11 with the Tigers and ’19 with the Astros, started on Opening Day for Houston from 2018-20.
Lefty Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young Award winner with the Astros, started on Opening Day from 2015-17; Doug Drabek, who won the 1990 Cy Young Award with the Pirates, started Houston’s opener in 1993; and Mike Scott, the 1986 National League Cy Young Award winner, started on Opening Day from 1987-91 (Mike Cueller started for Houston on Opening Day in 1967, two years before he won the Cy Young Award with Baltimore).
The Astros haven’t lost an Opening Day game since they moved to the AL in 2013, winning a club-record eight openers in a row.