The Opening Day starter for an MLB team is usually the best pitcher on the staff, or a hurler with evident leaderships skills and incredible clubhouse presence.
The distinction is also given to a good pitcher who has spent many years, often his whole career, with the same club.
It’s quite an honor, and the Philadelphia Phillies know it very well.
They designated right-hander Aaron Nola as the man to toe the rubber in their first game of the season, and nobody on the staff besides Zack Wheeler (we will get there in a minute) was more deserving.
It’s the fifth straight season in which the Phillies’ manager trusts the ball to Nola in the first game.
“Aaron Nola is one of the best to toe the rubber in @Phillies history. #OpeningDay,” MLB Stats tweeted.
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) April 8, 2022
Nola Is Already Making History
As the graphic suggests, Nola is third in the Phillies’ all-time ranking of consecutive Opening Day starts, with five.
Nola had a better 2021 season than his 4.63 ERA suggests.
His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) mark was at 3.37, and Statcast’s expected ERA (by exit velocity, hard hit rate and other stats) was at 3.35.
Wheeler, on the other hand, was a Cy Young candidate, with a stellar 2.78 ERA in 213.1 innings.
He accumulated 247 strikeouts, a career-high.
He is, however, behind the rest of the pitchers after suffering a shoulder issue during spring training.
He should be ready before the end of the month.
Had Wheeler been healthy, perhaps manager Joe Girardi could have turned to him instead of Nola for the Opening Day assignment.
Even still, Nola was going to be the favorite anyway because of his status inside the Phillies’ organization.