GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- A quiet person who doesn’t show a lot of emotion, Reds pitcher Tyler Mahle was low-key after he received the news that he would be his club’s Opening Day starter for the first time. But Mahle certainly appreciated the significance.
“It means a lot. Some people never get to do this,” Mahle said. “I may only get to do it once. I don’t know, so I’ll try to make the most of it and have a lot of fun.”
Manager David Bell informed Mahle ahead of Wednesday’s workout that he would be pitching against the Braves on April 7 in Atlanta.
“It was a real honor to tell him that news. He was excited,” Bell said. “He doesn’t show it all the time, but he was very excited. He knows how important it is. Most importantly, he’s earned it and deserves this as much as anyone. He’s quietly become one of the best pitchers in baseball. I think that has a lot to do with his personality, the quiet part. He just kind of goes about his business and continues to get better and better as a pitcher.”
Rotation ace Luis Castillo was Cincinnati’s Opening Day starter in 2019 and ’21 with Sonny Gray getting the nod in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Gray was traded to the Twins on March 13. It was revealed on Tuesday that Castillo might not be ready for the season’s first week after right shoulder soreness last week slowed his preparation.
Still, Mahle found the news unexpected.
“I was surprised, just because Castillo has been our guy for the last couple years and he still is our guy,” Mahle said.
Mahle, 27, is coming off the best year of his career. He was 13-6 with a 3.75 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in a league-leading 33 starts. He set career highs in starts, innings (180) and strikeouts (210).
“The last couple of seasons, I think, I took a big step from the two previous seasons,” Mahle said. “I was just able to compete on a more consistent basis and here we are.”
In Wednesday's Cactus League 12-8 win over the Brewers, Mahle allowed one run on two hits with a walk and three strikeouts in two innings.
Mahle was developed by the organization since he was a seventh-round pick in the 2013 Draft. He debuted in the Major Leagues with four starts in 2017 and has made progress.
“He seems like kind of a veteran presence at this point, just because of his steadiness more than anything, and the way he competes,” Bell said. “When he pitches, he gives you a great chance to win every game. I don’t know. He is kind of quiet compared to some of the other best pitchers in baseball, but he’s right in that mix.”
As the oldest professional franchise in baseball, the Reds traditionally open every season at home. But because the lockout pushed back the start of the regular season, this is the first time they will open on the road since 1990.
Bell did not set the rest of the rotation and did not know who would start the Reds’ home opener on April 12 vs. the Guardians at Great American Ball Park.
Mahle planned to have family and friends come see him pitch at Truist Park.
“I’ve gotten to know Tyler really well so it was like, I can tell when it means something to him,” Bell said. “I could tell he was excited because he was immediately talking about flying people in.”