For a starting pitcher, taking the mound on Opening Day is a coveted assignment.In the context of a 162-game season, who takes the ball first may not matter that much. But getting that call is a sign of respect and validation, plus a chance to take part in a special
For a starting pitcher, taking the mound on Opening Day is a coveted assignment.
In the context of a 162-game season, who takes the ball first may not matter that much. But getting that call is a sign of respect and validation, plus a chance to take part in a special day on the baseball calendar.
"It's definitely a huge honor," right-hander Jeremy Hellickson said when the Phillies picked him last year, for the first season-opening start of his career. "I've been a part of five Opening Days now and just the atmosphere -- standing on the line, seeing everything, how Opening Day goes down -- you just kind of think, 'Hopefully I can pitch one of these games sometime in my career.' It's exciting, that's for sure."
So which 30 will get the nod in 2017? With 16 teams beginning Spring Training workouts on Tuesday and a dozen more set to follow on Wednesday, here is a breakdown of the top candidate for each club.
Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw
It doesn't get any easier than this. The three-time National League Cy Young Award winner is headed for his seventh straight Opening Day start, which would tie Don Sutton for the franchise record (1972-78).
Mariners: Felix Hernandez
No, King Felix hasn't looked quite the same over the past two seasons, posting a 3.65 ERA. But he remains the clear leader of Seattle's staff, and is in line for his ninth straight Game 1 assignment and 10th overall.
Tigers: Justin Verlander
Verlander's run of eight starts was interrupted only by David Price in 2015, but the righty got his status and his groove back in '16, finishing a close second in the American League Cy Young Award voting. Manager Brad Ausmus confirmed the decision last month.
NO DOUBT ABOUT IT
Astros: Dallas Keuchel
The left-hander didn't have the follow-up season that was expected after winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, but he still should be the first man up for Houston for the third straight year.
Athletics: Sonny Gray
Food poisoning prevented Gray from making his third straight Opening Day start a year ago, and the season didn't get much better from there. Despite coming off a 5.69 ERA, the righty is the clear choice for a highly inexperienced staff.
D-backs: Zack Greinke
He also started last year's opener, on the heels of landing a $206.5 million contract. Not much went right for Greinke after that, but he remains easily the staff's most accomplished pitcher.
Giants: Madison Bumgarner
Despite the presence of Johnny Cueto, San Francisco's ace southpaw should get the call for the fourth straight year, matching Timothy Lincecum (2009-12) for the franchise's longest streak since Hall of Famer Juan Marichal put together six in a row from 1964-69.
Indians: Corey Kluber
On many staffs, the choice might be Carlos Carrasco. In Cleveland, Kluber is the No.1 guy and is in line for his third straight assignment coming off a stellar postseason run.
Mets: Noah Syndergaard
There might have been some mystery here, considering the presence of Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, but manager Terry Collins told The New York Post recently that Syndergaard will be his guy. The big righty, who delivered a 2.60 ERA in 2016, will be the club's seventh Opening Day starter in the past seven seasons.
Nationals: Max Scherzer
It was Stephen Strasburg's job from 2012-14, but Scherzer took over upon signing prior to the '15 season. He did nothing to change manager Dusty Baker's mind last year, claiming the second Cy Young Award of his career.
Rays: Chris Archer
Since no trade out of Tampa Bay materialized this offseason, Archer will get the nod for the third consecutive year, tying James Shields' franchise record (2008-10). The righty struggled early last year, but he looked like himself in the second half, with a 3.25 ERA.
Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka
Manager Joe Girardi confirmed on Tuesday that Tanaka has landed his third straight Opening Day gig, following a streak of six by Carsten Sabathia. Tanaka got through his first full big league season in 2016, posting a 3.07 ERA across 199 2/3 innings.
Angels: Garrett Richards
If healthy and ready to go, Richards should get his second straight Game 1 assignment, but that can't be considered a sure thing coming off his rehab for a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Matthew Shoemaker, Ricky Nolasco and Tyler Skaggs would be options if there is a setback.
Braves: Julio Teheran
Atlanta did sign a pair of highly respected veterans this offseason, in Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey. Still, Teheran has gotten the Game 1 nod for three straight seasons and should be the first Braves hurler since Greg Maddux (1993-96) to make it four.
Orioles: Kevin Gausman
Chris Tillman may have been in line for a fourth consecutive Opening Day start, but a shoulder issue will prevent him from being ready. Tillman and Gausman were easily the club's most productive starters last year, with Gausman posting a 3.61 ERA over a career-high 30 starts. That should give the 26-year-old an edge over veterans Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley.
Pirates: Gerrit Cole
This would be the first Opening Day start for Cole, whom the Pirates hope will stay healthy and lead a young rotation. Ivan Nova, re-signed this offseason, is the only other veteran who seems locked into a rotation spot.
It looked as though it would be a one-year gig when Hellickson got the call in 2016, but he received and accepted Philly's qualifying offer after the season. Hellickson and trade acquisition Clay Buchholz will sit atop a talented but green rotation.
Twins: Ervin Santana
The veteran righty took the mound for the opener last year, making him the ninth pitcher so honored by Minnesota in the past 10 years. Santana (30 starts, 3.38 ERA) was the Twins' only starter to log an ERA below 5.00.
White Sox: Jose Quintana
This was Chris Sale's job in three of the past four seasons, before he was traded. Unless Quintana meets the same fate prior to April, he is almost certainly ticketed to take over that role.
Cardinals: Carlos Martinez
This is a tricky one. Martinez clearly deserves his first Opening Day start based on merit, after producing a 3.02 ERA over the past two seasons. But while Adam Wainwright scuffled for much of 2016 (4.62 ERA), he's also a team leader who has gotten the nod four consecutive times and five total.
Cubs: Jonathan Lester
Manager Joe Maddon gave the ball to Lester in 2015, but he turned to Jacob Arrieta last year, when the righty was the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. Lester was better in '16, however, posting a 2.44 ERA and leading the staff throughout the team's championship run in October. He finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting, just ahead of teammate Kyle Hendricks (2.13 ERA), another strong candidate for the job.
Rangers: Cole Hamels
The left-hander would appear to have the inside track after doing the honors in 2016 and going on to enjoy a strong season (32 starts, 3.32 ERA). Yu Darvish has never gotten the assignment for the Rangers, but he would be a worthy selection if healthy.
Red Sox: Rick Porcello
Boston manager John Farrell has the "problem" of picking between Sale, Price and Porcello. Any would be a fine choice, and Price was the man in 2016, but Porcello is the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and seemingly has the support of the other two candidates.
Royals: Danny Duffy
Ian Kennedy got a big contract from K.C. last offseason and put together a solid year (33 starts, 3.68 ERA). Duffy earned a five-year extension on the heels of a sometimes-dominant breakout that included a one-hit, 16-strikeout effort on Aug. 1 against the Rays in St. Petersburg. Either could be the choice for a clubhouse still reeling from the tragic loss of Yordano Ventura.
Blue Jays: J.A. Happ
Marcus Stroman was the pick in 2016, and 24-year-old Aaron Sanchez may be the team's best pitcher, but Happ is a veteran who went 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA last season. Marco Estrada could be in the mix as well, and Francisco Liriano started each of the past three Opening Days for the Pirates.
Brewers: Junior Guerra
There doesn't appear to be a clear answer here, but Guerra posted a 2.81 ERA over 20 starts as a 31-year-old rookie. Fellow rookie Zach Davies also had a solid year, while Opening Day starter Wily Peralta scuffled. Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson and Matt Garza could factor in as well.
Marlins: Wei-Yin Chen
Following the tragic death of Jose Fernandez, Miami could hand the ball to Chen for the second straight year, although his first season with the club was a disappointing one. Fellow lefty Adam Conley was significantly more effective in 2016, and free-agent pickup Edinson Volquez is also an option.
Padres: Luis Perdomo
There isn't a more unsettled race than in San Diego, which will have its fifth Opening Day starter in as many years. The job certainly could go to a veteran free-agent signing such as Jhoulys Chacin or Clayton Richard, who has made 116 career starts in a Padres uniform. Christian Friedrich is in the mix as well, and the club also could sign another experienced arm during the spring. But Perdomo, a Rule 5 Draft pick last year, might have a slight edge following a solid second half.
Reds: Anthony DeSclafani
After four straight seasons of starting a season with Cueto, the Reds in 2016 gave a chance to Raisel Iglesias, who's now ticketed for the bullpen. DeSclafani notched a 3.28 ERA across 20 starts last season and looks to be the next man up, with Dan Straily traded and Homer Bailey slated to begin the year on the disabled list. Brandon Finnegan is another young pitcher who had some success in '16.
Rockies: Jon Gray
Jorge De La Rosa, who started two of the past three seasons, is a free agent. With no other established veterans on board, the assignment could be a toss-up between Gray, Chad Bettis, Tyler Chatwood and Tyler Anderson, none of whom is older than 27. Any of those four would be the franchise's 18th Opening Day starter in its 25 seasons.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.