I know it’s a bit early to get into the weeds with questions like “Who will take the ball for the A’s to kick off the 2023 season?” But these are also the kinds of queries that make it feel like baseball really is around the corner, with pitchers and catchers reporting in 11 days and the first spring training game just 10 days later.
It’s also an interesting question because the answer is a bit of a big “Um..........?” Here’s why...
Paul Blackburn and James Kaprielian would be “maybes at best” just based on the fact that they are recovering from injuries that put their availability for March 30th in doubt. Both are on track but may or may not meet that benchmark and shouldn’t be pushed just to serve that honor. And even if they were ready they would not be good for more than 5 IP, which doesn’t disqualify them but isn’t ideal.
It’s worth noting, and also sad, that if you took the injury out of the equation Blackburn would probably be a clear choice just based on his longevity with the team combined with his excellent 2022 first half. But life has given Paul the middle finger and so we continue our search...
The A’s do have a couple starting pitchers whose stuff and upside make them worthy of an Opening Day assignment, at least sometime in their career. One is the newly acquired Kyle Muller and the other is Ken Waldichuk.
It’s hard to envision the A’s handing Muller the gig when he has never thrown a pitch for Oakland, and his resume boasts a career 8.03 ERA (understandably he did not provide references). As for Waldichuk, so far the conventional wisdom has suggested that barring new injuries on the staff he is more likely to start the season in AAA than anywhere in the A’s rotation. And so the hunt proceeds...
Two other pitchers, brought in for overseas, figure to slot into the Oakland rotation but not at the very front end. Drew Rucinski is seen as more of an innings eater at the back of a rotation, but then again so was Kendall Graveman and he got the ball for the A’s on Opening Day, 2017-18.
But Graveman had been part of the A’s rotation for the 2 seasons prior and like the just-departed Cole Irvin he had not been terrific but he had been very reliable. It makes sense to use the Opening Day honor to recognize a veteran team leader, which is why all signals pointed to Irvin until he suddenly became Darell Hernaiz.
As for Rucinski, he resurrected his career in Japan, but has not pitched in MLB since 2018 when he packed up his career 5.33 ERA and hopefully enough socks. He is projected to make the rotation, but it’s not going to be in the #1 slot.
As for Shintaro Fujinami, he arrives with much more upside following an up-and-down career with the Hanshin Tigers. But the last thing you would think Oakland would do is to hand him the pressure of Opening Day to launch his MLB career. Thus, the exploration carries on...
So then what? The A’s have said A.J. Puk will be stretched out to entertain the possibility of a return to the rotation. “Hey A.J., you were finally healthy and had a pretty solid season as a reliever. Do you want to try starting again, and if so are you free Thursday?”
Said no one, ever.
I guess nothing says “Opening Day” like an opener? Could the first pitches of the 2023 season be thrown to a couple LH batters by ... Sam Moll? Or J.P. Sears as the first of two 3-inning tandem pitchers? Let me just stretch my fingers a little bit farther to try to procure those straws...
The only way I am going to guess right on this one is if the A’s make a late signing of a starting pitcher named Joey Hellifyno. Then I will have most certainly have suggested his name at some point.
Somewhat ironically, Oakland’s rotation might actually be a strength this season overall, even if no one exactly stands out as a logical staff leader. It’s not that the A’s lack talent or depth, it’s that all have characteristics which make them unlikely to get the ball for game 1 of 162.
But while there is truly no logical option, one thing is certain: someone is going to throw the first pitch of the season on March 30th. I will leave it to you in the poll, and in the comments, to weigh in on who might get that honor. And Hellifyno will remain a write in candidate who is presumed to be the rightful winner.
Who will get the Opening Day start for the A’s in 2023?
This poll is closed
Paul Blackburn, with 4 innings and 9 fingers
James Kaprielian, probably in tandem with another pitcher
Sam Moll, or another reliever, as "opener"
J.P. Sears, as the first of a "tandem pair"
Ken Waldichuk, for OAK not for LV