With Clayton Kershaw Out, Who Should Start Opening Day for Dodgers?

With Clayton Kershaw officially ruled out for Opening Day, we take a look at who should make the start for the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 28.

You can't wipe away eight years in 180 minutes.

Let's face it, eight years is a long time.

That's 2,922 days, 70,128 hours, it's enough time to watch two World Cup and Olympic cycles or a young teenager blossom into an adult.

Things have changed a lot in eight years. Lost was the biggest show on television, Kesha was the hottest thing in music, and nobody had heard of an app called "Instagram."

Laws have changed, policies have changed, even presidents have changed, but over that time one thing has remained constant: Clayton Kershaw taking the mound on Opening Day for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But as the age old adage goes: all good things must come to an end.

Kershaw's franchise record of eight consecutive Opening Day starts will end next week when the Dodgers open their 2019 campaign at Chavez Ravine against the Arizona Diamondbacks.


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A month ago, Dodger fans were simply ho-hum when Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts announced Kershaw would be the Opening Day starter for the ninth consecutive season, another Spring, another Game 1 start for the three-time Cy Young Award winner.

However, things can change a lot in a month, and after suffering left shoulder inflammation following an early bullpen session, Kershaw was shut down for three weeks putting the possibility of extending his streak in jeopardy.

As Kershaw finally began throwing again last week, rumors and rumblings of whether or not he would be able to make his Opening Day start began to spring up like mushrooms in a forest. 

Most fans were afraid that Kershaw's injury was more severe than the team was letting on, and not only would he miss Opening Day, but perhaps significant time with a serious injury.

Some believed that as long as Kershaw could still throw his curveball and slider with effectiveness, he would be on the mound on Opening Day. Whether that meant as an "Opener," (as the Tampa Bay Rays have transformed into a team philosophy), or simply as an abbreviated start as part of a long-term build up, the hope that Kershaw could pitch on March 28th was still alive. 

Earlier this week, Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts crushed those idle hopes like empty shadows, when he announced that not only would Kershaw not start on Opening Day, but he would begin the season on the newly renamed, "Injured List," a place the Southpaw has spent signficant time on for four straight seasons.

"I'm disappointed," Kershaw said of not being able to toe the rubber on Opening Day. "Being out there on Opening Day is special and I don't take that for granted. I love being out there. What it signifies, being part of the Dodgers' history, it's not lost on me. I love doing that, but when you get super realistic about it, it's just one game."

Kershaw received an anti-inflammatory injection in February and took three weeks off to rest and recuperate before being slowly built back up last week. He threw a 22-pitch simulated inning on Wednesday, facing live hitters in Joc Pederson, Max Muncy, and David Freese.

Roberts said Kershaw will next appear in the preseason Freeway Series against the Anaheim Angels, where he is expected to pitch two innings in the second game of the series on March 25.

"I haven't' had a spring training yet," Kershaw said on Wednesday. "I got to go through it all. It's tedious and boring, but hopefully it pays off with a healthy season. It's better to miss a little bit at the beginning than any time at all during the rest of it."

Kershaw will need to go from two innings, to five or more innings and 100 pitches. Therefore, it is a realistic expectation that Kershaw could miss the first two-to-three weeks of the season before he's ready to come off the injured list and make a start. 

"I think it [the Opening Day streak] is definitely a feather in Clayton’s cap," said Roberts. "But it’s not just about making an Opening Day start to add to your streak. It’s about being healthy and giving your team a chance to win. He’s in support of it. We are as well because we do have to take the long view and do what’s best for the player.”

Kershaw's absence on Opening Day means an opportunity for someone else in the Dodgers' rotation to head to the hill for the first game of the season. Who should start, and who will start are two separate questions, but here are the top candidates to fill the already larger than life shoes of the former MVP:

Walker Buehler

In many people's eyes, Buehler has already ascended into the ace role for the Dodgers. Buehler finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting last season, and allowed just two hits in seven shutout innings in Game 3 of the World Series last Fall.

However, Buehler has been slow-played this spring, and made his first Cactus League appearance on Tuesday. Despite the surefire fodder from fans for Buehler to start on Opening Day, that possibility was eliminated by Roberts on Monday.

Julio Urias

If the decision was based on talent and recent performance alone, then 22-year-old Julio Urias should be the Opening Day starter. The Mexican native looked downright filthy in four Cactus League starts, allowing just four hits with no losses to go with a 2.31 ERA.

However, the front office never planned for Urias to start the season in the rotation, and he will be on an innings limit in 2019 after undergoing should surgery in 2017. Urias was supposed to start on Wednesday against the Cubs, but instead came out of the bullpen where he is expected to being the 2019 campaign. 

Ross Stripling

The 2018 All-Star pitcher will once again prove his big league value as he moves from the bullpen back into the starting rotation. The reliever/starter hybrid role has made Stripling not only a sought after commodity by other teams, but an irreplaceable asset on the Dodgers.

"With Clayton not being able to start the season as a starter, Ross will start," announced Roberts on Tuesday.

Stripling has been strong this spring, allowing just four earned runs in four Cactus League starts to give him a 2.70 ERA. He will certainly be considered for Opening Day, but is more than likely seen as a back of the rotation starter.

Kenta Maeda

If the Dodgers were starting the season in Japan this week like the Mariners and Athletics, then perhaps Kenta Maeda would start Opening Day. After ending the season last year in the bullpen, Maeda has moved back into the starting rotation for 2019 and has allowed just three runs in ten Cactus League innings this spring.

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Outside of Kershaw, left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu is the longest tenured Dodger staring pitcher. After accepting the Dodgers qualifying offer over the winter, Ryu is likely entering into his final season with the Dodgers.

Compared to the other aforementioned options, Ryu has been the most consistent this spring, allowing just two runs in four Cactus League starts and sporting an ERA of 1.80. After starting Game 1 of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves last season, he's certainly proven he can pitch in big games at home.

Ryu's last start was on Thursday against Milwaukee, so the Korean lines up perfectly to make the start on March 28.  

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher, Rich Hill, discusses the possibility of being named the team’s Opening Day starter in the absence of Clayton Kershaw who will miss making the Opening Day start for the first time in nine seasons.

Rich Hill

Similar to Ryu, Hill is another strong candidate to start on Opening Day. At 39-years-old, Hill is the senior on the staff, and entering the final year of his contract with the Dodgers.

Hill has allowed six runs (four earned) in four Cactus League starts this spring and has an ERA of 3.27. He's thrown the ball well and feels like he's in a much better spot to start the season this year than in previous years.

"I feel like this spring training I've thrown the ball well," said Hill after his last start against the Brewers. It's much, much better than spring trainings before. I fee like I'm in a good spot."

Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts said on Tuesday that Hill would certainly be considered, and lines up well for Opening Day if he throws a final tune-up start on Saturday in Arizona.

"It's out of my control," Hill said about the possibility of him starting Opening Day. "Clayton is obviously one of the best pitchers we've seen in the last decade. I can't really get that far ahead and think about that. I'm only focusing on tomorrow and getting ready for the next outing."

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