Today, Raisel Iglesias will start Opening Day for the Cincinnati Reds. The start is historic, especially in light of the newly thawed relations between the United States and Iglesias's home country of Cuba. Iglesias will become the second Cuban pitcher to start Opening Day for the Reds, the first since Dolf Luque in 1921 and 1928.
As far as recent history goes, Iglesias's start is notable in a different light.
The obvious caveats; there are a couple of arbitrary endpoints here. "X number of games since X year" is a pretty convenient way to make something seem really important. But still, it's 16 years of arbitrary endpoints, and probably still doesn't describe the pitching environment that we live in.
Even then, that's quite the group of names! In light of Raisel's start today, let's take a look at the performances and circumstances that resulted in these four making Opening Day starts in their first 20 games.
In 2002, Lackey earned 18 starts with the Angels in route to their first and only World Series Championship. He finished 4th in AL Rookie of the Year voting for his troubles. Most notably, Lackey got the start in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series, allowing only 1 run in 5 innings pitched. He turned a 4-1 ball game over to Brendan Donnelly, Francisco Rodriguez, and Troy Percival. The rest is history.
In 2003, Lackey earned the Opening Day start after Jerrod Washburn (2002's 4th place Cy Young Award finisher) injured his shoulder. So Lackey, fresh off being the second rookie pitcher to start and win Game 7 of the World Series, earned the start on Opening Day of 2003.
The Angels would start the season against the Rangers. Lackey went 5 IP, allowing 8 hits, 5 ER, 2 SO, 2 BB, and 2 HR.
The Reds will hope that Iglesias fairs better in his first Opening Day start.
Hernandez signed as an amateur free agent with the Royals in 1997. He got the call in July of 2002, starting 12 games good for a 114 ERA+ (despite a 4.36 ERA, because we live in different times, friends).
Those promising 12 starts led to Opening Day consideration from Royals manager Tony Peña. In this case, Hernandez "earned" his Opening Day start by winning a coin toss between himself and future Reds pitcher Jeremy Affeldt.
Hernandez went 6 scoreless innings, allowing only 2 hits and striking out 5.
Runelvys would take a 2.34 ERA into May before he'd take a trip to the DL. He'd make seven more starts in that season before undergoing Tommy John Surgery and missing all of the 2004 season. He'd never be the same after the injury.
In 2005, Hernandez was the instigator to a bench clearing brawl between the Royals and Tigers. This is relevant because Kyle Farnsworth got to do Kyle Farnsworth things to the aforementioned Affeldt.
Yeah, that Kyle Farnsworth.
This one was a no-brainer, but the Nats didn't get there easily.
Strasburg was drafted by the Nationals with the first overall pick in 2009 and would be called up in June 2010, because young Stephen Strasburg, if you don't recall, was as close as "Can't Miss" as you get.
Unfortunately for Strasburg and the Nats, he would be DL'd after only 12 starts. Shortly thereafter, he'd go under the knife for Tommy John Surgery, wiping out most of his 2011 season, as well.
Strasburg was back and ready for Opening Day 2012, though, and showed no ill effects from his elbow surgery. He pitched 7 innings allowing only 1 run with 5 strikeouts in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs.
There would be ensuing handwringing about an innings cap for the young Strasburg. As you remember, 2012 turned out to be the first really good year the Nationals enjoyed since moving to the District.
On September 8th, the Nationals announced that Strasburg would be shut down for the rest of the year after only 159.1 innings pitched. The Nationals won 98 games, however they would be eliminated in the 2012 NLDS at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals, in a game five collapse.
The Reds likely will not have to worry about how an innings limit on their Opening Day starter will affect their playoff hopes in 2016, but they'll sure hope that Raisel can give a similar performance to that of Strasburg.
Gray was the first round pick of the Oakland Athletics in 2011, and when he made his debut in 2013, he basically began going about winning the Opening Day start for 2014.
In an interesting parallel to the Reds, Gray earned the call when the A's optioned Dan Straily to the minors. Gray made his first appearances out of the bullpen but then was sent back down for a month or so before getting called up again in August for the long haul.
Sonny Gray was brilliant then and has been brilliant ever since. He pitched 8 shutout innings against the Houston Astros to earn his first win. He pitched in the AL West clinching win in late September. In the 2013 playoffs, he started Game 2 and outdueled Justin Verlander for a 1-0 Oakland win.
All of that resulted in the young Gray earning the 2014 Opening Day start for the A's, the first Opening Day that Sonny Gray had ever even attended, even as a fan.
In the game, Gray pitched 6 scoreless innings, with 7 strikeouts and 3 walks.
As arbitrary as it is, this is a pretty good list of names for Raisel Iglesias to be joining. John Lackey has had a very successful career, earning a couple of World Series championships along the way. Stephen Strasburg was, at one time, considered the next best pitcher in baseball. And even after dealing with nagging injuries along the way, Strasburg is still one of the great young pitchers in the league. All Sonny Gray did was finish 3rd in Cy Young Award voting last year.
Runelvys Hernandez's career ended up being derailed by an elbow injury. That's the worst case for any pitcher, of course.
Later today, we'll get a glimpse into which kind of Opening Day starter Iglesias will be. If I had to bet, I'd wager that he'll do just fine.