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Richard named Padres' Opening Day starter

MLB.com @AJCassavell

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The worst-kept secret in Padres camp this spring is no longer a secret: Clayton Richard is scheduled to start the club's regular-season opener against Milwaukee.

By Opening Day starter standards, Richard's path to the mound certainly wasn't conventional. At 34, it's the first time in his 10 big league seasons that he's earned the honor. To get there, Richard overcame a pair of shoulder surgeries, several stops in the Minors, a long stint as a reliever and a complete overhaul of his mechanics.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The worst-kept secret in Padres camp this spring is no longer a secret: Clayton Richard is scheduled to start the club's regular-season opener against Milwaukee.

By Opening Day starter standards, Richard's path to the mound certainly wasn't conventional. At 34, it's the first time in his 10 big league seasons that he's earned the honor. To get there, Richard overcame a pair of shoulder surgeries, several stops in the Minors, a long stint as a reliever and a complete overhaul of his mechanics.

In a tale of perseverance, the veteran left-hander will take the ball at Petco Park on March 29 at 1:10 p.m. in the franchise's first ever opener against the Brewers. Richard, who was informed he'd get the nod earlier this week, waxed poetic about the meaning of Opening Day.

"The sights, the sounds, the smells that we haven't had for months -- it's a terrific, terrific time," Richard said. "It's so America. I don't know how else to put it. It's truly special."

Perhaps more so for Richard this year, given what he's endured to get here.

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Richard's 2013 campaign -- and his initial five-season stint with the Padres -- ended that June due to a shoulder injury. He'd undergo surgeries in July and the following February. Upon his recovery, he toiled in the Minor Leagues for three different organizations, before joining the Cubs as a reliever with a new delivery from a three-quarters arm slot.

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Richard was released by the Cubs in July 2016. To stay in game shape, he found himself pitching a scrimmage between two local high school teams in his hometown. Shortly thereafter, the Padres took a chance on him. Now, he'll start for them on Opening Day.

"What he's battled back from -- surgery on the shoulder, a winding road through the Minor Leagues back to the big leagues -- it's exciting for him," said Padres manager Andy Green. "And it's well deserved."

Said Richard: "Everything I've experienced since coming back I've enjoyed a little more. I understand how fleeting this moment can be in baseball and I've tried to really enjoy the moments -- and more than that, enjoy the people in those moments."

Green hasn't yet announced the rest of his rotation plans, but Dinelson Lamet is currently on a progression to start Game 2 against the Brewers -- whom the Padres have never before faced to open their season. Bryan Mitchell is the only other pitcher assured of a place in the starting five.

In 32 starts last season, Richard posted a 4.79 ERA with a 4.23 FIP. As one of the game's foremost sinkerballers, he figures to benefit from the Padres' improved infield defense this season. Still, those aren't exactly numbers you'd expect to see from a front-of-the-rotation ace.

"We clearly don't have that prototypical guy yet," Green said. "We believe those guys are coming [in the Minor Leagues]. But this guy is our leader in every facet."

Catcher Austin Hedges backed that assertion, tabbing Richard as the ideal choice for Opening Day.

"Any time you throw a guy on a big stage like that, you want a guy who you know can stay composed and just be himself," Hedges said. "He's going to be Clayton. You know what you're going to get. He's going to go out and dominate the bottom half of the zone, he's going to attack hitters the way he wants to. Everyone here is confident behind him."

Richard noted that he'll prepare for the game like any other. He won't dive into the Brewers' lineup until after his final Cactus League start on March 24, nor will he ask for any advice specific to Opening Day.

Still, the meaning of this start clearly isn't lost on him.

"It's a great honor," Richard said. "It's a special day in baseball -- in sports, really. There's nothing like Opening Day."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Clayton Richard