If you sift through the annals of Opening Day games started by Cincinnati Reds pitchers, you’ll stumble across the relatively nondescript likes of Joey Hamilton and Pete Schourek. Hamilton, you may remember, carved out a decent career with the San Diego Padres and Toronto Blue Jays before latching on with the Reds at the end of his career, posting -0.7 bWAR across three seasons while starting Opening Day in 2002. Schourek, on the heels of finishing second in the 1995 NL Cy Young Award voting in 1995, started Opening Day for the Reds in 1996, albeit with the best days of his 6.3 bWAR career clearly in the rear-view mirror.
Conveniently enough, when you scroll through the Baseball Reference page for current Cincinnati pitcher Scott Feldman, you’ll find both Hamilton and Schourek among his Top 10 similarity scores, and not without reason. With Feldman now 34 years old, he's at the point in his career where he's outlasted those other two peers, as both plodded along as middle-of-the-road starters only through their age 32 seasons. However, in Feldman's case, that hasn't coincided with the death knell of his career, as on Monday the Reds announced that he'll be their Opening Day starter for the 2017 season.
As The Enquirer's C. Trent Rosecrans noted after the announcement, it'll be the third such time Feldman has been tasked with pitching his team's first game of the season, which is actually a rather solid endorsement of the surface of his career stats. Of course, when he started Opening Day for the 2014 Astros, that was game one of a 70-92 season in Houston, and in the two years since that season ended Feldman has made more relief appearances (35) than games started (23).
Look, it's clear that having Scott Feldman start Opening Day of any season with the Cincinnati Reds wasn't Plan A. It wasn't Plan A when the
rebuild reboot started three years ago. It wasn't Plan A when the reboot actually became a full-on rebuild a year or so later. It wasn't Plan A when the 2016 season ended, nor was it Plan A when pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training over a month ago. Despite the wealth of pitching talent the team has drafted, developed, traded for, and signed in that stretch, however, Feldman will now be the first pitcher rolled out by Cincinnati in the 2017 season, which is a somewhat stark reality.
Last year, the ball was handed to Raisel Iglesias, who while unproven as a starter at least possessed both youth and the kind of star qualities that could at least serve as an emblematic beacon of the tides having turned. Of course, he'd probably still be tasked with the job again this year were his starting career not already cut short by shoulder injuries, and assuming his elbow loosens up there's a good chance we'll see him out of the bullpen (early) on Opening Day. With both he and fireballing former starter Michael Lorenzen out of the question due to injury history, Anthony DeSclafani became the natural heir to the honor before an elbow injury also sent him to the shelf.
With Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson struggling to even make the team after rocky debuts last year, Tim Adleman a fringe innings-eater having a rough spring, an Amir Garrett likely destined for a AAA beginning of the year due to service time concerns, that left Feldman and Brandon Finnegan as the only two real considerations for the Opening Day start. It seems the club has opted for Feldman's experience over Finnegan's more solid 2016 season, for whatever reason, which is surely in part a reflection on Finnegan's youth and still-developing path as a starter. But considering the promising youth movement across the rest of their roster, it's about as un-emphatic a way to assert that 2017 is going to be a step in the right direction as there could possibly be.
Neither the 1996 Reds and Schourek nor the 2002 Reds and Hamilton put together seasons that truly went anywhere, and both years now sit in the Reds' record books as years that largely started decline phases in the team's long, long history. While the 2017 Reds don't appear on paper to be destined for more wins than either of those two seasons, let's hope it's at least a year that bucks this comparison and leads to a more promising few seasons. Otherwise, we may look back years from now at "Scott Feldman started an Opening Day for the Reds" as what should have been a clear sign that things weren't going nearly as well as planned.