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Each AL Team’s Weirdest Opening Day Starter Since 2000

Being named the Opening Day starter for your team is an honor most pitchers dream of having. Most times, a team’s Opening Day starter is their best pitcher, but sometimes, injuries or other odd circumstances can thrust some interesting names into the spotlight. In the American League, there was no shortage of obscure players who got to open their team’s season on the hill, and some were able to get their teams against their opponent’s ace. Jomboy Media’s Jolly Olive made a similar list to this in a video in 2022, which you can view here.

Obscure Opening Day Starters: AL Edition

Baltimore Orioles: Sidney Ponson, 2004

The Orioles entered 2004 coming off a 91-loss season and didn’t have much pitching depth to boast. They had traded away Sidney Ponson to the Giants at the trade deadline in 2003 but re-signed the workhorse in free agency. The Aruban-born righty matched up against Boston ace Pedro Martinez at Camden Yards to begin the season.

Facing the eventual World Series champions, Ponson held his own, tossing 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball, allowing seven hits and three walks with three strikeouts to outduel the three-time Cy Young winner in a 7-2 victory. However, the rest of the 2004 season produced middling results for Ponson, as he finished the year with a 5.30 ERA/4.44 FIP (86 ERA+) in 215 2/3 innings. He bounced around five different organizations in the following five seasons and was out of baseball after the 2009 season at the age of 32.

Boston Red Sox: David Wells, 2005

Most people remember David Wells from his days with the Blue Jays and Yankees, where he won two World Series and threw a perfect game. The reigning World Series champion Red Sox signed the three-time All-Star the same day they lost Pedro Martinez to the Mets.

The Red Sox named the 42-year-old southpaw their Opening Day starter for the 2005 season against the Yankees in the Bronx. Wells was tagged for 10 hits and four runs, while the Red Sox were stifled by Randy Johnson in a 9-2 loss. Wells turned into a solid contributor, recording a 4.45 ERA/3.83 FIP (102 ERA+) in 184 innings for the year, and the Red Sox made it back to the postseason for the third year in a row. He made eight more starts for Boston in 2006 before getting sent to the Padres in August. He retired after splitting the 2007 season with the Padres and Dodgers.

Chicago White Sox: Mike Sirotka, 2000

No, this isn’t Braves starting pitcher Mike Soroka, this is left-handed pitcher Mike Sirotka, who was a 15th-round pick out of LSU in 1993. The White Sox had a ton of offense heading into the 2000 season, but there wasn’t much to get excited about when it came to the pitching staff. Sirotka had made over 30 starts in the previous two seasons, which was enough for him to be named the Opening Day starter by manager Jerry Manuel.

Sirotka’s season got off to a rocky start, as he was tagged for seven runs (six earned) and six hits with two walks in a 10-4 loss to the Rangers. Sirotka also gave up four home runs in 4 1/3 innings – two by Gabe Kapler and the other two by Iván Rodríguez. However, Sirotka turned it around and was Chicago’s best pitcher, helping lead them to an AL Central title. In 197 innings, Sirotka recorded a 3.79 ERA/4.42 FIP (133 ERA+), and was one of just a handful of pitchers in the AL with an ERA under 4.00.

Unfortunately, this was the last we’d see of Sirotka in the big leagues, as shoulder problems derailed his career and he’d never throw another MLB pitch after the 2000 season.

Cleveland Guardians: Roberto Hernandez, 2011

Cleveland has boasted many great arms throughout this century, including Cy Young winners C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Corey Kluber. In 2011 though, they handed the ball to Roberto Hernandez, who was known as Fausto Carmona at the time. Coming off his lone All-Star Game appearance, Hernandez’s start couldn’t have gone any worse, as he was tagged for 10 earned runs and 11 hits in three innings in a 15-10 loss to the White Sox.

Detroit Tigers: Mike Maroth, 2003

There has been no shortage of weird Opening Day starters for the Tigers this century, but Mike Maroth takes the cake. Detroit was coming off a 106-loss season, and they turned to the 25-year-old Maroth to be their season opener against the reigning division champion Twins.

Maroth pitched well against a tough Minnesota lineup, tossing seven innings and allowing just two runs and five hits with no walks and three strikeouts. However, the Tigers’ offense couldn’t get anything going against Brad Radke and the Twins’ bullpen. Maroth took the hard-luck loss in a 3-1 Minnesota victory – the first of 21 losses Maroth would take and the first of 119 the Tigers would endure that season. He finished the season with a 5.73 ERA across 193 1/3 innings, leading the majors in earned runs allowed.

Maroth stuck around in Detroit until 2007 when he was traded to the Cardinals, and he wouldn’t throw an MLB pitch beyond his age-29 season. He finished his career with a 5.05 ERA in 918 innings.

Houston Astros: Scott Elarton, 2001

The Astros had a few options when picking an Opening Day starter in 2001, but they opted for the 25-year-old Elarton, who made 30 starts in 2000. Facing off against the Brewers, Elarton pitched six solid innings, allowing seven hits and two runs with two walks and five strikeouts in an 11-3 victory.

Unfortunately for Elarton, he struggled mightily the rest of the season, and after an 11.42 ERA in three starts in July, he was dealt to the Rockies for Pedro Astacio. Houston was able to rally behind star rookie Roy Oswalt though, and won the NL Central. As for Elarton, he had stints with the Royals and (then) Indians, retiring with a 5.32 ERA across 10 big-league seasons.

Kansas City Royals: Runelvys Hernandez, 2003

The Royals have also had their share of obscure of Opening Day starters, but none top Runelvys Hernández, who’d only made 12 starts in the majors when he got the nod in 2003. The Royals were coming off an 100-loss season and Hernández literally got the Opening Day start over Jeremy Affeldt thanks to a coin toss by manager Tony Peña.

Matched up against White Sox ace Mark Buehrle, Hernández carved up the Chicago lineup, tossing six shutout innings, allowing just two hits and one walk with five strikeouts. Jason Grimsley and Mike MacDougal combined to get the last nine outs as the Royals shut out the White Sox, 3-0.

Hernández had a 1.36 ERA through the end of April and allowed three earned runs or fewer while pitching at least six innings in each of his first eight starts of the season. However, he missed two months due to an elbow injury and when he returned, he struggled to find his old form.

Eventually, Hernández underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entirety of the 2004 season. He never was able to reclaim the magic he had early in 2003, and he was out of MLB after the 2008 season at the age of 30, finishing his career with a 5.50 ERA in 454 2/3 innings.

Los Angeles Angels: Scott Schoeneweis, 2001

The early 2000s Angels were known for their offense, headlined by sluggers Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, and Tim Salmon. In 2000, Darin Erstad led the majors in hits and became the first lead-off hitter to drive in 100 runs. However, their pitching staff left a lot to be desired, which led them to an underwhelming 82-80 finish in 2000.

The 2001 Angels didn’t have much more pitching depth, leading them to make Scott Schoeneweis, who had a 5.45 ERA in 27 starts the year prior, the Opening Day starter. The southpaw held the potent Rangers’ lineup at bay, allowing eight hits and three runs with three walks and five strikeouts in seven innings. The Angels couldn’t find a groove against Kenny Rogers though, going 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position in a 3-2 loss in Arlington.

Schoeneweis had a 2.91 ERA at the end of April, but he struggled to just a 5.67 mark from that point on, giving him a cumulative 5.08 ERA in 32 starts (205 1/3 innings). He was on the Angels’ roster in 2002 that won the World Series, but by that point he had been moved to the bullpen. He bounced around to six different teams before he retired in 2010, recording a 5.01 career ERA in 577 appearances.

Minnesota Twins: Scott Baker, 2010

Coming off winning the AL Central in thrilling fashion the year prior, the 2010 Twins weren’t necessarily short of pitching talent. They opted for Scott Baker to be their Opening Day starter though, coming off hitting 200 innings for the first time in his career.

Baker struggled against the Angels in the season opener, allowing four runs and five hits with three walks in 4 2/3 innings in a 6-3 loss. For the rest of the year, Baker made 29 starts and recorded a respectable 4.49 ERA/3.96 FIP (91 ERA+), while the Twins ran away with their second straight AL Central title.

Injuries eventually derailed Baker’s career, as he missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and never threw more than 130 innings after 2011. After stints with the Cubs, Rangers, and Dodgers, Baker retired in 2015 at the age of 33. He concluded his career with a 4.26 ERA/4.07 FIP (99 ERA+) in 1,064 2/3 innings.

New York Yankees: Carl Pavano, 2007

The Yankees have had a bunch of great Opening Day starters over the years. In the early 2000s they frequently used Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina, then they had C.C. Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Luis Severino, and now they have flamethrowing righty Gerrit Cole. In 2007, they handed the ball to Carl Pavano, who was trying right himself after injuries wiped out most of the first two years of the four-year contract he signed in 2004.

The Yankees staked Pavano to a 3-1 lead against the Devil Rays, but Tampa Bay came firing back with a four-run fifth inning that ended Pavano’s night. In 4 1/3 innings, Pavano was charged with five runs (four earned) while allowing six hits and two walks. The Yankees rallied late though to get Pavano off the hook and win 9-5. Pavano made just one more start in 2007 before suffering an elbow strain that eventually required Tommy John surgery.

Pavano didn’t return to the Yankees until late August in 2008, making seven starts before his contract ended. Over the life of his four-year contract, Pavano made just 26 starts after making over 30 in the two seasons prior to signing his deal.

Oakland A’s: Kyle Muller, 2023

This is the only player from the 2023 season on either list because it’s too hard to ignore how out of place Kyle Muller looks compared to the rest of the league’s Opening Day starters.

A Dallas native, Muller was a second-round pick by the Braves in 2016 and was traded to Oakland as part of a package for Sean Murphy this past December. He’s made just 12 MLB appearances (11 starts) and has a 5.14 ERA thus far in 49 innings. Muller had a 3.41 ERA and 159 strikeouts in 134 2/3 innings in Triple-A in 2022, but it’s still hard to justify making him the Opening Day starter.

Seattle Mariners: Marco Gonzales, 2019-21

It’s hard to pick a player for the Mariners because of the Opening Day starters they had before Marco Gonzales. Freddy García and Jamie Moyer made every Opening Day start from 2000-2006, and the Félix Hernández made every single one from 2007-2018. Gonzales is the choice here only because his résumé pales in comparison to the other options.

Gonzales opened the season for Seattle against the A’s in Tokyo in 2019, tossing six innings and allowing three runs and seven hits with one walk and four strikeouts, earning the win.

In 2020, Gonzales matched up against Justin Verlander and the Astros, taking the loss after allowing four runs (three earned), five hits, and one walk in 4 1/3 innings. He concluded his run of Opening Day starts in 2021, in which he gave up five runs on eight hits (including three homers) against the Giants in six innings. However, the Mariners rallied late for an 8-7 win, taking Gonzales off the hook. Entering 2023, Gonzales in slated to be the fifth starter in the Seattle rotation.

Tampa Bay Rays: Tanyon Sturtze, 2003

The Rays lead the pack when it comes to having unrecognizable Opening Day starters, especially during the days as the Devil Rays.

Tanyon Sturtze was a former 23rd-round pick who made 27 starts for the 100-loss Devil Rays in 2001. In 2002, he took the ball in Tampa Bay’s season opener in a battle of cellar dwellers against the Tigers. Sturtze got knocked around for nine hits and five runs, walking two and striking out three in 5 2/3 innings, ultimately earning a no-decision in a 9-5 Devil Rays win. Tampa Bay would go on to lose 106 games, with Sturtze losing an MLB-leading 18 times and also allowing a league-worst 271 hits, 129 earned runs, and 89 walks in 224 innings.

Sturtze had stints with the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Dodgers before retiring in 2008. He finished his career with a 5.19 ERA/5.03 FIP in 797 innings.

Texas Rangers: Tanner Scheppers, 2014

The Rangers lost Yu Darvish for the season during spring training in 2014, leaving them scrambling for an Opening Day starter. Tanner Scheppers had been a candidate for the All-Star Game Final Vote as a reliever in 2013, but was in line to break camp as a starter. With Darvish out, manager Ron Washington handed Scheppers the ball for his first MLB start on Opening Day against the Phillies.

The Phillies jumped all over Scheppers with a six-run second inning, including a grand slam by Jimmy Rollins. Scheppers’ day ended after four innings, getting charged with seven runs and eight hits while walking three batters. The Rangers rallied to take him off the hook, though they eventually fell, 14-10. Schepper made three more starts before elbow problems limited him the rest of the year. He last pitched professionally for the Chiba Lotte Marines of NPB in 2018.

Toronto Blue Jays: Drew Hutchison, 2015

The Blue Jays were dealt a blow late in spring training when Marcus Stroman tore his ACL, which led manager John Gibbons to name Drew Hutchison the Opening Day starter. Hutchison made 32 starts in 2014, pitching to a respectable 4.48 ERA/3.85 FIP in 184 2/3 innings.

Facing off against Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees in the Bronx, Hutchison outdueled the Japanese right-hander, tossing six innings of one-run ball while allowing just three hits and two walks. Aaron Loup and Miguel Castro recorded the final four outs as Toronto earned a 6-1 victory.

Thanks to the Jays’ potent offense and the midseason acquisition of David Price, Toronto snapped their 22-year playoff drought by winning the AL East. Hutchison managed to own a 13-5 record, though he also had a 5.57 ERA in 150 1/3 innings. He’s bounced around to the Tigers, Phillies, Rangers, and Tigers since then, and has a career ERA of 4.89 in 587 innings.

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