Ace Pitchers Thrive on Opening Day

MLB Opening Day came with much anticipation for baseball fans yesterday, and each team hoped to get off to a great start to their 2013 campaigns. While players like Bryce Harper (2-4, 2 HR in Nationals’ 2-0 win) and Freddie Freeman (3-4, HR, 3 RBI in Braves’ 7-5 win) impressed offensively, the highlights of Opening Day were the performances of several ace pitchers around the major leagues.

The performance of the day came from Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw, who pitched a complete game shutout of the defending champion San Francisco Giants. Kershaw was in complete command of his pitches, allowing only four hits and striking out seven Giants in nine innings of work. Kershaw said of his performance, “I was able to throw it for strikes, which is key. That made it easier for them to chase. They were swinging early in counts.” And if a shutout of the World Champs wasn’t enough for Kershaw, he also belted his first career home run to center field to break a scoreless tie in the eighth inning. Kershaw received a standing ovation and curtain call from the Dodgers’ faithful, just before he completed his shutout. Giants ace Matt Cain also had a solid day, striking out eight in six innings of scoreless work.

Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals also impressed in his first outing of the season. He pitched seven innings against the Miami Marlins, allowing just three hits while striking out three. However, he only threw 80 pitches, seemingly contradicting manager Davey Johnson’s claim that Strasburg would have “unlimited” activity this season. Last season, Strasburg was shut down in early September because of concerns about his pitching arm. Strasburg showcased his high-90s fastball numerous times against Miami on Monday.

After signing a then-record $175 million dollar, 7-year extension in the offseason, Seattle Mariners ace  Felix Hernandez impressed in nearly eight innings of work on the mound against the Oakland Athletics. Throwing 109 pitches, “King Felix” allowed three hits, only one walk, and struck out 8 A’s to lead the Mariners to a 2-0 victory. Last season, Hernandez pitched the 23rd perfect game in MLB history against the Tampa Bay Rays, and finished fourth in AL Cy Young Voting.

Justin Verlander broke Hernandez’ record for a pitcher’s contract on March 29th, signing a seven-year contract worth $180 million, with a $22 million option for an eighth year in 2020. Verlander also picked up his first win of the season, striking out seven batters in the Tigers’ 4-2 win over the Minnesota Twins. He only pitched 5 innings (91 pitches) and walked two batters, but still looked dominant and did not allow a run in his five innings.

Opening Day wasn’t memorable for every team’s ace; Phillies lefty Cole Hamels allowed 3 HR and 5 ER in five innings against Atlanta, and Yankees starter CC Sabathia allowed eight hits and 4 runs against Boston. But for Kershaw, Strasburg, Verlander, and Hernandez, the season started brightly. These four names are likely to lead their respective leagues in many pitching categories, and could very well earn their leagues’ Cy Young Awards come October.

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