GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For the ninth time in his career, left-hander Clayton Kershaw will start on Opening Day for the Dodgers.
Manager Dave Roberts made the announcement Monday morning, confirming that Kershaw will take the hill March 26 at Dodger Stadium against the Giants, with right-hander Walker Buehler starting the second game and southpaw David Price getting the nod for the third.
“It’s really cool,” Kershaw said. “I feel like I’ve said it every year, but I don’t take it lightly. It is an honor. It is just one game, but it’s an honor to get the start. Opening Day is a special day in baseball, to get to be a part of it is really cool.”
While Kershaw had been named the club’s Opening Day starter each year since 2011, he was replaced by left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu last year due to injury. The last Dodger other than Kershaw to be named for an Opening Day start before that was right-hander Vicente Padilla in ‘10.
Kershaw, 31, is a three-time National League Cy Young Award winner with the Dodgers, having been named an All-Star in eight of the past nine seasons.
In his eight previous Opening Day starts, Kershaw has compiled a 1.05 ERA with 59 strikeouts.
Roberts said that while he believes the events of Opening Day are a bit ceremonial, tabbing Kershaw for the first game was not an easy call to make.
“It was [a difficult decision], and I think that’s a good thing,” Roberts said. “I think it was a difficult decision in the sense that [of] what Walker has done and what we expect him to do this year, so I think that’s a compliment to both players. I think, ultimately, having Clayton start Opening Day made the most sense for us that day and also going forward.
“Walker knows how much we value him. He’ll have plenty of times to start on Opening Day.”
“I talked to Walker about it, too,” Kershaw said. “I don’t want a ‘charity’ Opening Day [selection]. … Walker was great about it, too. I’m thankful that I get to do it.”
One of the preeminent starting pitchers of the past decade, Kershaw has led the National League in ERA five times and in strikeouts and wins three times during his career.
Kershaw ranks first in franchise history in qualified WHIP (1.01), second in opponents’ batting average (.208), third in strikeouts (2,464), qualified ERA (2.44) and games started (344) and fifth in wins (169).
Even as he earned eighth place in NL Cy Young Award voting last season, Kershaw’s 3.03 ERA was his highest since 2008. The 87.2 mph exit velocity and 6.8 barrel percentage that he yielded in '19 were his highest marks recorded since Statcast began to keep track in ‘15.
“Considering where he was at last year physically, [that] he was an All-Star with a three ERA is pretty impressive,” Roberts said.
Nagging injuries played a role in Kershaw working just 178 1/3 innings last season, as he battled ailments from spring down throughout the regular season. But now with 17 days to prepare for his start against San Francisco, Kershaw is attempting to hone in on the stuff that has made him ubiquitous with Dodgers Opening Day over the last decade.
“It’s crazy how fast Spring Training has gone,” Kershaw said after working 3 1/3 innings without allowing a run during a back-field contest Monday against the Tijuana Toros. “It’s never going to be perfect, there’s always stuff that you’re working through -- even during the season. It’s never perfect, but you want your body to feel good.”
“It’s kind of hard to project what his season’s going to play like, because last year he was banged up throughout the spring and kind of trying to hold things together all year,” Roberts said. “So now, he feels great. He’s recovering well. What’s going to happen? I can’t really predict that, but I do know that I expect him to make his starts.”
In addition to confirming Kershaw’s Opening Day status, Roberts also made it known that left-handers Julio Urías and Alex Wood would be filling out the remainder of the team’s starting rotation.
“These are our five best pitchers,” Roberts said. “I feel good about it.”
The Giants have not yet announced how they will line up their rotation to begin the season, but with left-hander Madison Bumgarner gone to Arizona, right-handers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija have the best chance of being tabbed opposite Kershaw for Opening Day.
Dodgers play it ultra-safe with Betts
Mookie Betts was again held out of the club’s lineup for Monday’s 14-2 win vs. the Padres, with the logic being that Betts, who is recovering from food poisoning, would have two additional days off by holding him out ahead of Tuesday’s off-day. Roberts expressed little doubt that Betts would be ready for Wednesday.
• Shortly after being officially named to the starting rotation, Wood dialed up 3 1/3 innings of one-run ball against San Diego, allowing three hits while striking out four.
Wood owns a career 2.85 ERA during 16 regular-season matchups (10 starts) against the Padres.
Betts is expected to return to the lineup Wednesday vs. Milwaukee following Tuesday’s off-day. Buehler, who will start the second game of the regular season vs. the Giants, is set to make his third start of the spring. First pitch at Camelback Ranch is set for 6:05 p.m. PT, marking the final home night game of the Cactus League. Fans can watch the game live on MLB.TV and listen on Gameday Audio.