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Each NL Team’s Weirdest Opening Day Starter Since 2000

Earlier this week, we covered every AL team’s weirdest Opening Day starter from this century, which had no shortage of obscure names. Moving over to the NL side, there are plenty of pitchers who weren’t ace-caliber pitchers who were given the nod for one reason or another. Some of these pitchers rose to the occasion, while others struggled to get their season off on the right foot. Jolly Olive of Jomboy Media made a similar video on this topic, which you can watch here.

Obscure Opening Day Starters: NL Edition

Arizona Diamondbacks: Josh Collmenter, 2015

The Diamondbacks have had plenty of star pitchers this century, headlined by Cy Young award winners Randy Johnson and Brandon Webb, as well as All-Stars Dan Haren and Patrick Corbin. In 2015 though, Corbin was still recovering from undergoing Tommy John surgery and there wasn’t much for Arizona to get excited about following a 98-loss season.

Josh Collmenter had been a solid contributor for D-Backs both as a starter and a reliever over the first few seasons of his career and was tasked with facing the reigning World Series champion Giants on Opening Day. Matched up against Madison Bumgarner, Collmenter struggled to keep the Giants off the bases and a four-run fifth inning was enough to hand Collmenter the loss. In 4 2/3 innings, Collmenter surrendered five runs (four earned) and 10 hits, walking one and striking out four.

Collmenter rebounded with a complete-game shutout against the Giants 11 days later, but he struggled in the rotation, and after allowing five runs in six innings against the Mets on June 7, he was removed from the rotation with a 5.24 ERA. He remained a respectable reliever in 2016 but was out of MLB at the age of 31 following the 2017 season. He last pitched professionally for the Auckland Tuatara in the 2019-20 Australian Baseball League season.

Atlanta Braves: John Burkett, 2001

The most common Opening Day starters in the 1990s and 2000s were Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz, but none of them got that nod in 2001. That honor went to 36-year-old John Burkett, a former 22-game winner who was coming off his third straight below-average season.

Burkett didn’t exactly light the world on fire in the season opener against the Reds. He was staked to a 4-1 lead, but he surrendered a game-tying three-run homer to Sean Casey in the bottom of the sixth inning. Burkett was charged with four runs and seven hits with four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. Luckily for him, the Braves rallied to score four runs in the eighth inning and run away with a 10-4 victory.

While his Opening Day start was rather rocky, Burkett had a career renaissance of sorts in his age-36 season. He made it back to the All-Star Game, turning in a 3.04 ERA/3.39 FIP (147 ERA+) with 187 strikeouts in 219 1/3 innings, helping the Braves claim another NL East crown. He wasn’t able to replicate his success after signing with the Red Sox that offseason though, and he retired after the 2003 season at the age of 38.

Chicago Cubs: Jon Lieber, 2000-2002

On most rosters, Jon Lieber would’ve been a solid mid or back-end rotation arm. With the Cubs having a depleted starting rotation though, he was their Opening Day starter three seasons in a row. Facing off against the Mets in Tokyo, Lieber opened the 2000 season by pitching seven innings of one-run ball, allowing just five hits and two walks in a 5-1 win.

In 2001, Lieber took the hill against the Expos at Wrigley Field, once again tossing seven innings, but this time he allowed four runs (three earned) and six hits while walking one and striking out six, earning a no-decision in a 5-4 loss. That season, however, Lieber made his lone All-Star Game and won 20 games. In 2002, Lieber earned another no-decision on Opening Day, allowing three runs and eight hits in five innings before the Reds walked off the Cubs, 5-4.

Lieber was having the best season of his career in 2002 before having to undergo Tommy John surgery, which wiped out his 2003 season. He remained a solid workhorse for the Yankees and Phillies before circling back to the Cubs, where he would retire in 2008. He finished his career with a 4.27 ERA/4.02 FIP (103 ERA+) in 2,198 innings.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Hamilton, 2002

A former first-round pick out of Georgia Southern University, Joey Hamilton had an ugly 5.93 ERA in 26 starts in 2001, but he was named the Reds’ Opening Day starter against the Cubs in 2002. Matched up against the aforementioned Lieber, Hamilton battled through five innings, allowing seven hits and two runs while walking five batters and striking out two. The Cubs, however, left 14 men on base and the Reds won on Aaron Boone‘s walk-off sacrifice fly.

Hamilton endured another rough season in 2002, finishing the year with a 5.27 ERA in 124 2/3 innings and eventually losing his spot in the Reds’ rotation. He made three more appearances for Cincinnati in 2003, allowing 15 runs in 10 2/3 innings, and retired in 2004 at the age of 33.

Colorado Rockies: Kip Wells, 2008

The Rockies have had their fair share of weird Opening Day starters over the years, but Kip Wells is the most surprising name given that the Rockies were coming off their first NL pennant in franchise history. A former first-round pick, Wells was coming off a year in which he lost an NL-worst 17 games and had a 5.70 ERA in 162 2/3 innings. The Rockies were the fifth team Wells had landed with in his career to that point

Jeff Francis was slated to get the Opening Day start, but when the game was rained out, manager Clint Hurdle opted to give the journeyman Wells the start instead. Facing his former team at Busch Stadium, Wells held the Cardinals to one run and four hits while walking three and striking out three in 5 1/3 innings. The Rockies rallied for two runs in the eighth inning to a 2-1 season-opening win.

Wells made just one more start for the Rockies the rest of the year though, and he spent the majority of the season on the disabled list due to blood clots in his hand. The Rockies released him in mid-August, and he finished the season with the Royals, totaling a 6.21 ERA with 31 strikeouts against 31 walks in 37 2/3 innings. Wells bounced around to the Nationals, Reds, and Padres before retiring in 2012 with a career 4.71 ERA in 1,338 1/3 innings.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Vicente Padilla, 2010

Most of the Dodgers’ Opening Day starts this century have gone to Clayton Kershaw, who started the season opener every year from 2011-2018. However, before Kershaw began his streak, they turned to journeyman right-hander Vicente Padilla to be the Opening Day starter in 2010. Padilla had just a 4.46 ERA the year prior, but he had finished the year strong after getting traded to Los Angeles.

Facing off against the Pirates, Padilla got hit hard, allowing two home runs to Garrett Jones in the first three innings. A five-run fifth inning ended Padilla’s night, as he was charged with seven runs and six hits with three walks in 4 1/3 innings. The Nicaraguan-born righty made just 16 starts on the season due to injuries and the Dodgers had a rare losing season. Padilla retired after spending the 2012 season with the Red Sox, finishing his career with a 4.32 ERA (100 ERA+) in 1,571 1/3 innings.

Miami Marlins: Mark Hendrickson, 2008

Mark Hendrickson didn’t break into the majors until he was 28, due in part to the fact that he spent four seasons in the NBA beforehand. He was drafted a whopping six times by MLB teams, and by the time the Marlins signed him before the 2008 season, he had a 5.01 ERA in 844 innings.

The towering left-hander was named the Marlins’ Opening Day starter in 2008, tasked with doing battle against Johan Santana and the Mets. After three scoreless innings, the Mets attacked the 34-year-old for six runs on five hits in the fourth inning, which was enough to hand Hendrickson the loss in a 7-2 final. Hendrickson made 19 starts before the Marlins pulled him from the rotation with a 6.24 ERA. He played three more seasons with the Orioles before retiring at the age of 37, ending his career with a 5.03 ERA in 1,169 innings.

Milwaukee Brewers: Jamey Wright, 2001

Jamey Wright was the first-ever draft pick by the Colorado Rockies when they took him with the 28th pick in the 1993 Draft. The Brewers acquired him as part of a blockbuster for Jeff Cirillo. Wright’s numbers weren’t particularly great through his first five years in the majors, as he had just a 5.22 career ERA when the Brewers named him their Opening Day for the 2001 season.

Matched up against Chan Ho Park and the Dodgers, Wright went toe-to-toe with the Dodgers’ right-hander, tossing seven innings and allowing just one run, five hits, and two walks with three strikeouts. However, Gary Sheffield‘s sixth-inning homer was all Park needed, and Wright handed a tough-luck loss in a 1-0 defeat.

Wright finished the year with a 4.90 ERA in 194 2/3 innings and the Brewers traded him to the Cardinals in the summer of 2002. He went on to pitch for 10 different teams in his 19-year MLB career, racking up a 4.81 ERA/4.87 FIP in 2,036 2/3 innings.

New York Mets: Tylor Megill, 2022

Jacob deGrom was the Mets’ Opening Day starter each year from 2019-21, and after signing Max Scherzer that offseason, one of those two aces seemed destined to open the team’s season in 2022. Late in spring training though, deGrom went down with a shoulder injury and Scherzer suffered a minor hamstring injury, which was enough to force him to the second game of the season and make Tylor Megill the Opening Day starter.

Megill began the season with a bang, pumping high-90s heat past the Nationals hitters, striking out six while allowing only three hits in five shutout innings. The Mets’ offense woke up in the fifth and sixth innings to earn a 5-1 victory.

Megill continued his hot start through the end of April, recording a pristine 1.93 ERA in that time. However, multiple trips to the injured list derailed his season and he never found his early-season form when he returned. After losing out on the final rotation spot to David Peterson, Megill is slated to begin the season with Triple-A Syracuse.

Philadelphia Phillies: Robert Person, 2002

The Phillies only had one starting pitcher (Randy Wolf) with an ERA below 4.00 in 2001, but right-hander Robert Person made 33 starts and threw the most innings on the staff. The veteran right-hander was named the team’s Opening Day starter in 2002, tasked with facing off against a potent Atlanta Braves lineup.

The Braves scored a run in the first inning on a Gary Sheffield RBI groundout. In the third inning, Scott Rolen made a two-out error, which was followed by a three-run homer off the bat of Vinny Castilla. Person allowed a two-run homer to Sheffield in the bottom of the fifth inning before being pulled. He allowed three hits, six runs (three earned), and four walks, taking the loss in a 7-2 final.

Person made just 16 starts in 2002 and was plagued by a 13.1% walk rate in 87 2/3 innings. He signed with the Red Sox ahead of the 2003 season, but he pitched in just seven games and had the rest of his career derailed by injuries. He retired with a 4.64 ERA/4.82 FIP (95 ERA+) in 897 1/3 innings.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Ron Villone, 2002

The Pirates lost 100 games in 2001 and had a team ERA of 5.05, good for the second-worst mark in the NL. They picked up Ron Villone in February of 2002, a journeyman left-hander who’d spent most of his career as a reliever and had a 5.89 ERA between the Rockies and Astros the year prior. With pitching depth still a deficiency on the roster, manager Lloyd McClendon named Villone the Opening Day starter in 2002 against the Mets.

Villone pitched a scoreless bottom of the first inning but immediately found trouble in the second, surrendering three runs on three hits. Jay Payton added a solo homer in the bottom of the fourth, and Villone’s day ended after throwing 106 pitches in five innings. He managed to strike out seven batters, but he was tagged for six hits, four runs, and two walks. The Pirates couldn’t get anything going against Al Leiter in a 6-2 loss.

Villone made just seven starts for Pittsburgh before getting moved to the bullpen. He finished the year with a 5.81 ERA in 93 innings. Villone bounced around six more rosters before retiring in 2011, having played for 12 different teams. In 898 career innings, Villone registered a 4.73 ERA.

San Diego Padres: Kevin Jarvis, 2002

We have yet another obscure Opening Day starter from the 2002 season, a year that takes up five spots on here. Pitching for his sixth different team, Jarvis made a career-high 32 starts in 2001, recording a 4.79 ERA for a Padres team that went just 79-83. Manager Bruce Bochy gave Jarvis the honor of getting to face Randy Johnson and the reigning World Series champion Diamondbacks for their season opener in Phoenix.

Jarvis more than held his own against the D-Backs, allowing just two runs and five hits, walking none, and striking out four in seven innings. On the flip side though, the Padres were completely stifled by the three-time defending Cy Young award winner Johnson, as the Big Unit twirled a complete-game shutout, handing Jarvis a tough 2-0 loss.

Jarvis made just seven starts in 2002, with injuries derailing a promising start to the year. After a rocky 2003 season, the Padres traded him to the Mariners. He played for five different teams between 2004-06 before retiring at the age of 36. He concluded his career with a 6.03 ERA and negative-4.1 rWAR in 780 2/3 innings.

San Francisco Giants: Ty Blach, 2018

The Giants lost 98 games in 2017, and for the second year in a row, ace Madison Bumgarner suffered an injury in spring training that sidelined him for most of the first half. Facing the defending NL champion Dodgers, Bruce Bochy turned to Ty Blach to be the Opening Day starter. The southpaw had shown signs of greatness late in the 2016 season but was coming off a rough 2017 season in which his ERA spiked to 4.78 and he had the lowest strikeout rate of any starter in MLB.

Matched up against Clayton Kershaw, Blach pitched five shutout innings, allowing three hits and three walks while striking out three batters. Joe Panik hit a solo home run in the top of the fifth, which was all the Giants needed, as Josh Osich, Cory Gearrin, Tony Watson, and Hunter Strickland combined to record the last 12 outs in a 1-0 victory.

Blach unfortunately wasn’t able to keep his momentum from that start going, and he was removed from the rotation at the end of May. In 47 appearances, he finished the year with a 4.25 ERA/3.83 FIP (89 ERA+). After a disastrous start to the 2019 season, the Giants waived him and he was picked up by the Orioles. Blach didn’t resurface in the majors until 2022 with the Rockies and remains with their organization heading into this year.

St. Louis Cardinals: Kyle Lohse, 2008 and 2012

The Cardinals didn’t have a lot of weird Opening Day starters, and even Lohse isn’t that obscure of a name. Seeing him get the start though was a bit surprising. The Cardinals didn’t even sign Lohse until mid-March and he’d never had an ERA below 4.00 in his career.

With Chris Carpenter still injured, Lohse took the hill against the Rockies to begin the 2008 season and tossed five shutout innings, allowing three hits and three walks with three strikeouts. He was handed a no-decision though after the Rockies rallied for two runs in the eighth inning against Ryan Franklin. 2008 proved to be a breakout season for Lohse, but he had two rocky seasons in 2009 and 2010.

In 2012, Lohse was coming off the best season of his career to that point and was given the honor of beginning the Cardinals’ title defense, as well as starting the first-ever game at Marlins Park. Lohse carved up the new-look Marlins, allowing just two hits and one run, walking none, and striking out three in 7 1/3 innings, and the Cardinals took a 4-1 win.

Lohse had a career year in 2012, in which he finished seventh in the NL Cy Young voting. He spent the last few years of his career with the Brewers and Rangers, retiring with a 4.40 career ERA in 2,531 2/3 innings.

Washington Nationals: Tony Armas Jr., 2003

There weren’t many choices from the D.C. era of the Nationals franchise, but Tony Armas Jr. was the most surprising name from the final years of the team’s days in Montreal. The team had traded for Orlando Hernández before the season but he suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the entirety of 2003.

Armas was named the Opening Day starter against the Braves and Greg Maddux, and the Expos immediately jumped on Maddux for four runs in the first inning. Armas kept the lineup that ended up scoring the most runs in the NL at bay, tossing six innings and allowing just five hits, one run, and one walk, striking out two in a 10-2 victory.

Armas was able to make five starts, pitching to a solid 2.61 ERA before suffering shoulder and arm injuries that eventually ended his season. He was never able to find the magic he had going in 2003 and was out of MLB after the 2008 season at the age of 30. All told, he owned a career 4.65 ERA/4.88 FIP (94 ERA+) in 925 2/3 innings.

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