It happens every spring: a reporter will ask a manager who his Opening Day starting pitcher is going to be, and the manager will say it’s too early to make that announcement and everyone needs to be patient until the team makes a decision.
But the truth is most teams know who their Opening Day starting pitcher is well before spring training ever begins.
They have to and here’s why: starting pitchers pitch every five days so at some point teams have to get their opening day pitcher on track.
This season starts on April 3 so count backward five days and the opening day starter should also be throwing on March 29. Count backward another five days and the starter should be throwing on March 24. Continue counting back using five-day intervals and — theoretically — the Opening Day starter would be throwing on March 19, 14, 9 and 4.
Here’s where it gets tricky
Those above dates aren’t totally accurate because you don’t count days off.
Teams not only need to get their Opening Day starting pitcher on track, they also need to get every other starting pitcher lined up for their first regular-season start. And teams would much rather starters get an extra day of rest than pitch on short rest, so when teams have a day off it’s likely they’d give all the starters an extra day’s rest and keep the rotation sequence in order.
The spring training opponent can also make a difference.
Let’s say you’re playing a divisional opponent and you don’t want them to get an extra look at a starting pitcher. If that’s the case you can start somebody else and send your starter over to the backfields and keep him on track by having him throw in a minor league game.
And the World Baseball Classic might throw a wrench in the works.
Danny Duffy pitched for Team USA team in the WBC on Saturday, March 18. Five days later — March 23 — is an off day for the Royals, so if Danny is pitching on opening day the Royals will probably give him that extra day’s rest and have him pitch on March 24. That would get Danny on track to pitch on the 29th and on Opening Day on April 3.
If teams know who their opening day pitcher is, why don’t they say so?
Teams like to wait as long as possible before announcing their Opening Day starting pitcher and that’s smart; why say someone is the Opening Day starter before you have to? What if the guy you picked to start opening day gets hurt right after you make the announcement?
It’s the same reason teams don’t let us know who made their roster until they have to. If you make that announcement and someone gets hurt or has some other kind of problem then teams have to make another announcement that things have changed and it makes everyone look bad. Better to wait as long as possible to make any kind of announcement.
Keep in mind that all this is written in pencil, not stone.
Something could happen that would force the Royals to adjust their plans. That being said, I can pretty much guarantee you the Royals are not sending their opening day starting pitcher to the mound on short rest, so if that’s Danny Duffy he’s throwing at least five days before April 3.
Count on it.