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Most strikeouts on Opening Day

MLB.com

Barring health issues or unforeseen circumstances, Opening Day starts are reserved for aces only. Some hurlers come out of the gate sizzling hot, needing no more than a few Spring Training starts to get the wheels turning. Some starters exceed expectations, sitting down batter after batter on strikeout after strikeout in a rhythmic dance between pitcher and catcher.

The following pitchers have authored the most strikeouts on Opening Day, dating back to 1908. Some are counted upon in their machine-like delivery, going down in history as the greatest pitchers to take the hill. Others may surprise.

Barring health issues or unforeseen circumstances, Opening Day starts are reserved for aces only. Some hurlers come out of the gate sizzling hot, needing no more than a few Spring Training starts to get the wheels turning. Some starters exceed expectations, sitting down batter after batter on strikeout after strikeout in a rhythmic dance between pitcher and catcher.

The following pitchers have authored the most strikeouts on Opening Day, dating back to 1908. Some are counted upon in their machine-like delivery, going down in history as the greatest pitchers to take the hill. Others may surprise.

1. Camilo Pascual (15 strikeouts -- April 18, 1960)
Fifty-eight years later, Pascual is still the one to beat for most strikeouts on Opening Day. The hurler entered the season for the Washington Senators as the best pitcher in baseball. In 1959, his owner, Calvin Griffith, turned down $500,000 to ensure Pascual didn't move a foot out of Washington. The hurler turned heads, tossing a three-hitter against the Red Sox en route to a 10-1 Opening Day victory that began on a first pitch from President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Hall of Famer Ted Williams was the only opponent to score a run in the opener, taking Pascual deep on his 493rd career dinger.

2. (tie) Randy Johnson (14 strikeouts -- April 6, 1993 & March 31, 1996)
Johnson came close to tying Pascual for most Opening Day strikeouts not once, but twice in his career. Donning a Mariners jersey, the Big Unit owns two of the three Opening Day starts of 14 strikeouts. He sat down the Blue Jays and White Sox '93 and '96, respectively. The flamethrowing southpaw gave up no more than two earned runs in each start, hurling at least 120 pitches apiece. Johnson went on to flash a 2.49 career ERA in 14 openers.

2. (tie) Don Drysdale (14 strikeouts -- April 12, 1960)
Tied with the Unit, Drysdale comes in a close second for the strikeout crown. Impressively, the Cy Young winner threw 164 pitches in 11 innings en route to 14 strikeouts against the Cubs in '60. Out of any Opening Day starter on this list, Drysdale holds the trophy for most pitches thrown. Sixty-five percent (106-of-164) of those pitches were strikes. As if pitching for three hours and 17 minutes wasn't exhausting enough, Drysdale's versatility deserves a nod. The nine-time All-Star legged out a triple late in the seventh inning against Chicago starter Bob Anderson -- going 1-for-4 in the batter's box.

3. (tie) Lon Warneke (13 strikeouts -- April 17, 1934)
Warneke is just one of two pitchers to throw a shutout while hurling 13 or more strikeouts on Opening Day. Extraordinarily, the Cubs pitcher took a no-hitter into the ninth inning. He recorded his 13th strikeout against Reds' Ernie Lombardi to start the ninth, then gave up a single to Adam Comorosky to end the no-hit bid. Not a bad way to start the season for the Cubs, who finished the '34 season in third place with 86 wins.

3. (tie) Bob Gibson (13 strikeouts -- April 11, 1967)
Gibson is the only other pitcher to throw a shutout while carving 13 strikeouts to begin the season against the Giants in '67. This was the first of nine consecutive years Gibson would take the hill on Opening Day for the Cardinals. (The Hall of Famer went on to win his second World Series Most Valuable Player Award for allowing just three runs over three complete-game wins against the Red Sox that year.) The Cardinals great gave up five hits against the Giants in an Opening Day game that took just one hour and 55 minutes to complete. Gibson struck out the first five batters he faced, including legend and Hall of Famer Willie Mays.

3. (tie) J.R. Richard (13 strikeouts -- April 10, 1980)
Richard tossed a lofty 13 strikeouts in an Opening Day start against the Dodgers in '80. The righty came off a career year for the Astros in '79, winning the MLB ERA title (2.71) on an 18-13 record with 313 strikeouts. He began the following opener on a high note -- allowing one earned run on two hits over eight innings against Los Angeles. This matchup was a preview of the season conclusion, as the Astros won the division one game ahead of the Dodgers on a 93-70 record.

3. (tie) Dave McNally (13 strikeouts -- April 7, 1970)
McNally couldn't have predicted he'd have a career year after striking out 13 Indians on the way to a complete-game 8-2 win in Baltimore's '70 opener. The 5-11 southpaw garnered 24 wins in '70, his most in a season during a 13-year career. McNally registered two earned runs on four hits and three walks over a full nine during the impressive opener on Cleveland's turf. Once Roy Foster took McNally deep on a solo home run in the fourth inning, the southpaw posted at least one strikeout in every inning thereafter.

4. (tie) Chris Archer (12 strikeouts -- April 3, 2016)
Archer is the first of the hurlers to have lost a game while recording 12 K's. Sporting an unusual pitching line, Archer lasted only five innings and gave up two unearned runs on five hits against a loaded and healthy Blue Jays lineup that rattled him in the first inning. Edwin Encarnacion's two-run single put the Blue Jays on the board early, Archer finding himself in a 2-0 hole before the Rays even got the chance to bat.

Still, the righty tossed 107 pitches and struck out 12 of the next 20 batters he faced -- including Josh Donaldson thrice, Encarnacion twice and Jose Bautista once -- tying him for fourth all-time for most K's on Opening Day.

Video: TOR@TB: Archer fans 12, holds Blue Jays to two earned

4. (tie) Felix Hernandez (12 strikeouts -- April 2, 2007)
Enter: King Felix. It was only a matter of time before Hernandez crept up on the Opening Day strikeout list with 12 K's over eight scoreless innings against the Athletics in '07. Six days away from his 24th birthday, Hernandez struck out every batter but one in the A's '07 Opening Day lineup. This was Hernandez's second consecutive Opening Day nod. King Felix came close to cracking his own Opening Day strikeout record in '14 against the Angels on 11 K's.

4. (tie) Pedro Martinez (12 strikeouts -- April 4, 2005)
Martinez left the Red Sox after a memorable seven-year run in Boston and picked up right where he left off for New York. The Dominican hurler silenced 12 Reds in his first appearance for the Mets on Opening Day in '05. Martinez was pulled after six innings, giving up three runs on three hits and two walks over 103 pitches for New York. The Mets lost, 7-6, to Cincinnati despite a three-run rally in the seventh inning. The Hall of Famer had come close to matching his Opening Day strikeout record in '98 and '00 for the Red Sox, but fell one K short in both games.

4. (tie) Nolan Ryan (12 strikeouts -- April 6, 1973 & April 7, 1975)
Ryan's illustrious 27-year career that began at the ripe age of 19 featured not one, but two Opening Day nods with 12 strikeouts for the California Angels. Both were complete games, both facing the Royals. In '73, the Hall of Fame right-hander limited Kansas City to two earned runs on six hits. In '75, Ryan improved even further -- allowing just three hits over nine innings. Ryan led the league in '73 for most strikeouts per nine innings pitched with 10.

Video: Check out Nolan Ryan's unreal career strikeout stats

4. (tie) Gary Nolan (12 strikeouts -- April 7, 1969)
Nolan was drafted by the Reds in the first round in '66 and received his first Opening Day start for the club three years later at 21 years old. Nolan began the game smoothly, striking out Dodgers' Willie Crawford and Bill Sudakis in the first inning. Ultimately, Los Angeles got the best of Nolan -- knocking in three earned runs on seven hits over seven innings in a 3-2 Reds loss. Drysdale was the winning pitcher for the Dodgers.

4. (tie) Dick Selma (12 strikeouts -- April 8, 1969)
One day after Nolan's commanding performance, Selma sculpted his own for the Padres. Interestingly, Selma started just three games for San Diego, including the home opener in '69. But the right-hander made it count, holding the Astros to just one run on five hits with 12 strikeouts en route to a complete-game win. He went 2-for-2, ripping a pair of singles to left against Astros pitchers Don Wilson and Jack Billingham.

4. (tie) Tony Cloninger (12 strikeouts -- April 12, 1966)
Cloninger, best remembered as the only hurler to hit two grand slams in one game (July 3, 1966 vs. Giants), was more than just a great hitting pitcher. Of all the starters registering strikeouts in their respective Opening Day campaigns, the inexhaustible Cloninger went deepest into a game. The right-hander threw a 13-inning game for the '66 Braves, holding the Pirates scoreless until the eighth -- a solo home run by Jim Pagliaroni. He was backed by a powerhouse Braves lineup in sluggers Hank Aaron, Joe Torre and Eddie Mathews. A two-run home run to Willie Stargell in the 13th inning delivered a brutal Opening Day loss to the 25-year-old Cloninger.

Deesha Thosar is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.