Greinke to make history as KC Opening Day starter (again!)

March 31st, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It’s been a little less than 12 years since  last took the mound for the Royals. But on April 7, he will pick up back where he started: As Kansas City’s Opening Day starter.

Manager Mike Matheny made the announcement after the Royals’ 9-5 loss to the Giants at Surprise Stadium on Wednesday. The news confirmed what was expected when Kansas City signed Greinke to a one-year deal at the beginning of Spring Training and brought him back to the organization that drafted him No. 6 overall in the 2002 Draft as an 18-year-old out of Apopka (Fla.) High School.

Greinke will kick off the 2022 season next Thursday against the Guardians at Kauffman Stadium, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 p.m. CT. At 38 years, 168 days old on Opening Day, Greinke will be the oldest Opening Day starting pitcher in Royals history, surpassing 36-year-old Tim Belcher in 1998.

“This decision was made the day we met before he even signed here,” Matheny said. “We were very clear with him the expectations of what he was going to do for this club. I told him as soon as we give him the green light, we’ll rewrite what it looks like for Opening Day, because he’s the guy we want out there. He’s the right guy.”

Greinke knew he was lined up to start the first day of the season, but he didn’t put too much stock into the Opening Day nod.

“Probably the same as my reaction right now,” Greinke said with a straight face when asked what his reaction was to it becoming official.

Later, Greinke elaborated on his return to Kansas City.

“I’m excited to be back,” he said. “The main goal for me, though, is focusing on pitching and helping the team. That’s the main concentration at the moment.”

Brad Keller was the Royals' Opening Day starter last year and in 2019, and he was scheduled to start Opening Day in '20 as well before he caught COVID-19 and saw Danny Duffy fill in for him.

The Royals brought Greinke back to not only anchor the rotation with his talent, but also to lead the young pitching staff featuring Keller and others. There’s no better way to do that than setting the tone on Day 1 of the season.

“He asked when we were meeting that first time, ‘What do you see as my role here?’” Matheny said. “I told him, ‘You’re throwing the first day. Do you need to hear anything else? That should say it all. We expect you to be the guy we throw out there every fifth day or so. And show these guys how you go about your business.’

“At that point, you could see that registered. Me telling him later, it just validated what I’ve already told him. I know he’s excited to be out there.”

Greinke’s start on April 7 will come 12 years after his 2010 Opening Day start for the Royals, marking the largest gap between Opening Day pitching starts for the same team, according to's Sarah Langs and the Elias Sports Bureau. In between, Greinke has molded himself into one of the best pitchers of this generation, built up his Hall of Fame case and racked up accomplishments along the way.

Now he’ll return to where it all started, which was one reason he signed with the Royals this spring. He cited the way he saw Kansas City support the Royals during their 2014-15 postseason runs and the way president of baseball operations Dayton Moore leads the organization as reasons he chose to come back.

Greinke acknowledged next Thursday's start might be “a little different,” as he returns to his former team and fanbase. He said every time he’s pitched at Kauffman Stadium since leaving it’s had a different feeling, as well as when he returns to Milwaukee, the team the Royals traded him to in 2010.

“You got memories there. You have memories from that spot,” Greinke said. “It’s more just driving in a familiar area, being by where you lived for a couple years, the drive to the stadium brings back memories. Kind of like when I go back home to Orlando, when I go back to my street where I grew up, it has a different feel to it.”

That 2010 start was Greinke’s first on Opening Day, coming after his AL Cy Young Award-winning season in ’09, and he allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits in six innings against the Tigers and Justin Verlander on April 5, 2010 -- although Greinke said he doesn’t remember anything about that start beyond saying catcher Jason Kendall was “good.” The Royals’ lineup that day contains some true throwback names: First baseman Billy Butler hit third, center fielder Rick Ankiel hit cleanup and designated hitter Jose Guillen hit fifth.

The Royals traded Greinke after that season, and he went on to make three Opening Day starts with the D-backs and one with the Astros -- last season, when he threw six scoreless innings against the A’s.

“He’s a guy who’s been there, done that,” Matheny said. “I think it means a lot. It’s a great honor to be the Opening Day starter. We can sometimes put too much on it, but there’s a lot. There’s extra stuff. He’s going to have to answer questions now about that, and it’s not his first time. And some guys rise to the occasion on those bigger platforms and those bigger stages. He’s done it many times.

“I know it’s something he’ll be excited about with his reunion back at Kauffman Stadium and the fan base in K.C. … I’ve heard it said before, ‘He’s one of ours.’ It’s good to see him back in these colors and how excited he is to be here. I think that plays into it too.”