When the Twins and Royals kick off their 2023 campaigns at Kauffman Stadium on Thursday, Minnesota will be facing a veteran pitcher on a likely Hall of Fame track. Kansas City, on the other hand, will face a rising rotation force who’s just joined the American League. Both will bring a different profile to the mound by the time 3:10 p.m. CT rolls around, but both have a successful track record of winning games and taking the ball for their team.
Pablo López and Zack Greinke will set the tone for these two clubs, with the Twins looking to get back into contention after several moves -- including the addition of López to their rotation -- this offseason and the Royals eyeing the future with a young team full of rising stars.
Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from the two starters on Opening Day:
RHP Pablo López
Previous Opening Day starts: None
2022 season: 32 GS, 180 IP, 3.75 ERA, 53 BB, 174 K
It was tough for the Twins to say goodbye to fan favorite Luis Arraez, but they got their new Opening Day starter in the process.
López will make his first career Opening Day start following his acquisition in an offseason trade with the Marlins. The 27-year-old is coming off a 2022 season that was particularly meaningful to him, because he finally stayed healthy throughout the campaign. That had long stood as the most significant hindrance to López’s full emergence as a rotation force -- and he also showed off this month on the international stage with a big start for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.
The Twins couldn’t really have gone wrong with this decision, as all five members of their projected rotation -- López, Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle, Joe Ryan and Kenta Maeda -- will now have earned an Opening Day nod. But with López working with tweaked breaking balls to better complement his wipeout changeup, Minnesota feels the best is yet to come with its No. 1 guy.
“I know we had several options to pitch Game 1, and I would have felt great with any of those guys,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I feel like Pablo's a guy that's come in and had such an immediate impact on everyone around here, staff and players alike. I think he's an extraordinarily talented individual who will rise to that occasion of pitching the first game of the season for us.
“And he's nasty.”
RHP Zack Greinke
Previous Opening Day starts: Six -- 2010, '16, '17, '19, '21, '22
2022 season: 26 GS, 137 IP, 3.68 ERA, 27 BB, 73 K
A veteran starter and role model of the Royals’ young staff, Greinke will make his second consecutive Opening Day start and third overall with Kansas City. Before last season, it had been 12 years since his last Opening Day start with the Royals, the longest time in between Opening Day starts by a pitcher with the same team.
The Royals pegged Greinke for the first game instead of right-hander Brady Singer, their young breakout pitcher from 2022, because of Singer’s time away from camp playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
Singer only pitched two innings in the tournament, putting him behind schedule in his progression and likely setting him up for his 2023 debut later in the weekend against the Twins or for the second series of the year against the Blue Jays. Greinke, who acknowledged he does get “a little” excited for Opening Day starts still, said he thought Singer was worthy of the nod if innings weren’t a factor.
“Yeah, last year, he was amazing,” Greinke said. “And then so far this year, he’s just as good, if not better. He’s probably the best pitcher on our staff at the moment. He’s been good.”
So, first-year manager Matt Quatraro turned to his reliable veteran starter. Greinke is entering his 20th season in the Major Leagues in 2023, and he agreed to return to Kansas City on a one-year deal in February after an enjoyable '22 season, back with the organization that drafted him No. 6 overall in 2002. Greinke, who won the '09 AL Cy Young Award with Kansas City, could very well finish his career as a Royal, and he’s on a potential Hall of Fame track with a 3.42 ERA across 556 games.
Even at age 39, Greinke is still striving to improve, constantly tweaking with his pitches and looking for ways to get outs.
“We’re witnessing a Hall of Fame career, and another step in that is another Opening Day start,” Quatraro said. “His seventh, which is pretty amazing. … To have somebody who’s been there, done that and able to handle the emotions and everything is great.”