Halfway through winter, there wasn’t much debate as to which pitchers would make up the quintet of the Dodgers starting rotation, so long as everyone stayed healthy. Furthermore, there wasn’t any doubt at all who would take the hill on Opening Day against the Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium.
Once again, the 2019 honors go to Clayton Kershaw.
Skipper Dave Roberts announced the decision to the media on Tuesday.
The starting nod will be Kersh’s ninth career Opening Day start, extending his own team record.
“It’s very cool,” Kershaw told reporters not long after the announcement. “Opening Day symbolizes a lot of things. I’m excited about it. Being on the same team that long, a team with a long list of great starting pitchers, to be associated with them is kind of special.”
Los Angeles won all of Kershaw’s first seven Opening Day starts, as he compiled a 5-0 record with a 0.99 ERA during that span. However, his win streak was broken in 2018 when the Dodgers were blanked by the Giants, 1-0.
The three-year, $93 million contract extension that Kershaw signed over the winter was seemingly swept under the rug, mainly because management took care of all the loose ends before the MLB Hot Stove was able to gain any momentum. Kerhsaw could have opted out of his previous pact with the Dodgers, but he ultimately agreed to the deal without many complications, easing the collective conscience of the fan base.
Kershaw was the team’s first pick in the 2006 draft, joining the big league squad in 2008. The Dodgers have gone to the playoffs in almost every year he has been in the rotation, including winning six straight division titles from 2013-2018, three straight NLCS appearances, and back-to-back World Series appearances in 2017-18. Kershaw won the NL Cy Young in 2013, 2104, and 2106. He also was the NL MVP for the 2014 season.
Nevertheless, Kershaw was on the disabled list twice last season with shoulder and back issues. He went 9-5, but his 2.73 ERA would have still placed him fourth in the National League had he reached the qualifying innings amount. Overall, he pitched a total of 191-1/3 innings, including the postseason. He went the first six years of his Major League career without being on the disabled list at all, but has been placed on the shelf five times in the last five seasons.
Moreover, there has been a lot of chatter about the ace’s decreasing velocity, especially during last season. Over the winter break, front office boss Andrew Friedman downplayed the overall need for Kersh to increase his velocity, adding that better execution would be enough for improved success. However, Roberts noted that an uptick would increase Kershaw’s margin for error, while giving him more confidence to throw fastballs glove side and also playing up his slider.
“There’s so much data now, body movements and things, and how you can be out of whack with your mechanics that you can kind of work on and work through, that it’s in there,” Roberts explained. “And the No. 1 thing for me — his work ethic, his desire, and he’s healthy.”
Regardless of his velocity and his 2018 statistics, Kersh remains one of the top starting pitchers in all of baseball—for now.