Which Starting Pitcher Had the Best Opening Day Performance?

Which Starting Pitcher Had the Best Opening Day Performance?

by July 25, 2020 0 comments

Finally, baseball is back. 

The longest and most weird offseason in a long, long time has seemingly come to an end as all 30 teams have played at least one game. Once again, there are hits, home runs, diving plays, debuts and starting pitchers.

Each club tossed their No. 1 starter or their best arm to start their sprints to the postseason. So after the first game of each team’s season, which starting pitcher dazzled on Day 1?

Gerrit Cole

This list begins with a bonafide ace who is expected to contend for the American League Cy Young award as a member of the New York Yankees. The Yankees signed Cole to a nine-year deal after he finished as the Cy Young runner-up last season, so he’ll likely have plenty more Opening Day starts in pinstripes.

Cole’s first task as a Yankee was awfully familiar as he twice pitched against the World Series champion Washington Nationals in last season’s postseason. He made sure to get some revenge on the team that took away his first chance at earning a ring.

The Nationals jumped out against Cole early as Adam Eaton hit a solo home run in the first inning. However, Cole held the Nationals hitless the rest of the way through.

Cole pitched the complete rain-shortened game and finished with five strikeouts and one walk. He had thrown 75 pitches, and if the rain had not caused the game to get called, perhaps Cole would have continued dominating.

Lance Lynn

The Texas Rangers may have renewed Lance Lynn’s career after signing the eight-year vet in Dec. 2018. Lynn tossed a career-high 208.1 innings last season and finished fifth in the AL Cy Young voting as he allowed just 89 runs and struck out 246 batters.

Making his first career Opening Day start, Lynn was challenged with a potent Colorado Rockies lineup featuring Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado as the two, three, and four hitters. He had no problem silencing those bats.

Although he allowed a baserunner in each of the first five innings, Lynn only surrendered two hits across six innings. His nine strikeouts are the highlight of his shutout performance as the Rockies did not scratch a run against Lynn nor the Rangers’ bullpen.

Although Lynn had to work a bit harder than the numbers suggest, Lynn started his season in stride and his nine strikeouts currently are tied for third-most in all of baseball. 

Sonny Gray

Sonny Gray has revitalized his career after coming to Cincinnati in a trade with the New York Yankees two offseasons ago. In 2019, Gray earned his second All-Star selection and pitched to a 2.87 ERA, his lowest since his first All-Star nod in 2015.

His assignment against the Detroit Tigers was a bit less challenging than the Nationals or Rockies like Cole and Lynn, but nonetheless, Gray carved a lineup that featured a mix of youngsters and veterans, like two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera.

Gray struck out nine batters over six innings, walking just two and allowing three hits. He also set a new Major League record with 34 consecutive starts where he has allowed six hits or fewer.

Take away the solo home run Gray allowed to C.J. Cron and he would have allowed just two hits over six shutout innings. Perhaps Reds manager David Bell would have let Gray pitch the seventh inning to achieve the quality start, but Bell has a grand plan for that kind of game to come later in Gray’s season.

Shane Bieber

Former ace of the Cleveland Indians and two-time AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber was traded to Texas over the offseason. This move may have officially passed the torch to 25-year-old right-hander Shane Bieber.

Already owning an All-Star Game MVP and fourth-place finish in the AL Cy Young voting under his belt, Bieber made his first career Opening Day start against the Kansas City Royals. Much like fellow AL Central foe Detroit, Kansas City’s lineup isn’t as feared as it once was but still features tough outs, like reigning league leader in hits, Whit Merrifield. 

Bieber didn’t let the moment overwhelm him. The righty mowed down the Royals’ lineup and had 14 strikeouts after just six innings. He allowed six hits and just one walk before handing the ball over to the bullpen to finish the shutout. 

The Indians may not have gone long without an ace in their rotation if Bieber continues to pitch as well as he has the past two seasons and after Friday. He’s going to be a threat in the AL Central for a long time.

Kyle Hendricks

This is where the argument ends. There is no question Chicago Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks had the best Opening Day pitching performance in baseball.

The Milwaukee Brewers, who finished above the Cubs in the National League Central for the past two seasons, could not figure out the under-the-radar and reliable arm that is Kyle Hendricks.

Also making his first career Opening Day start, Hendricks turned in one of his most masterful games. Hendricks became the first Cubs pitcher since Bill Bonham to throw a shutout on Opening Day. 

That isn’t where the dominance ends. Hendrick struck out nine and did not allow a walk over his nine innings. Those three hits all were allowed to Orlando Arcia, the No. 9 hitter in the Brewers’ lineup.

It took 103 pitches, and Hendricks has been known for great performances with relatively low pitch counts. The Cubs will need Hendricks to continue evading bats while taking the mound in a division with arguably the most competition in all of baseball. He’s already exceeded that ask after Opening Day.

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