SARASOTA, Fla. — When the Orioles take the field at Fenway Park on March 30, there will be a new face on the mound handling the responsibility of pitching opening day.
Right-hander Kyle Gibson, signed this winter for $10 million, will be Baltimore’s tone-setter against the Red Sox in Boston, manager Brandon Hyde announced.
Gibson has been in this position before, but he won’t want to replicate the results. In 2021, as a member of the Texas Rangers, Gibson took the mound at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City and recorded just one out, allowing five runs before he was pulled earlier than he ever had been before.
Only up from there?
“That’s exactly right,” Gibson said with a laugh. “That’s exactly right. I think, after one start, I might’ve had the biggest drop in ERA from one start to No. 2, so we’ll see if we can avoid that.”
Gibson rebounded from his previous opening day debacle to post an 0.82 ERA across his next five starts. He wound up earning an All-Star nomination before his trade to the Philadelphia Phillies, and he finished his season off with a 3.71 ERA across 182 innings.
This time, Gibson said, he’ll understand the nerves that come with starting on opening day. He’s a 10-year veteran, a 35-year-old who knows high-leverage situations. Still, he always deals with nerves before any start, he said.
“You figure out how to use that adrenaline in the right way,” Gibson said. “And hopefully that gives me a little bit of a learning curve to do a little bit better from there.”
At the beginning of the offseason, Gibson might’ve projected as a back-end arm in the rotation. The Orioles were in the mix to add a high-end starter, but that move never came about. Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias completed a trade for left-hander Cole Irvin, but Gibson is the most veteran pitcher on the staff.
In spring training, then, Gibson became the Orioles’ top pitcher by default, with left-hander John Means (who started the two previous opening days for Baltimore) recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.
“Getting another chance at it, I don’t think it means, ‘Hey, ace’ or anything like that,’” Gibson said. “I don’t look at it like that. I think there’s maybe 15 aces in the league, there’s not 30. … I think for me it’s just trying to go out there and be a veteran leader and try to set the tone for that first series of the year.”
The rest of the rotation is still to be determined. The Orioles entered with a 12-man competition for five spots, and that has been whittled down to eight options. Gibson and Irvin have long been seen as locks, and their spring performances have solidified those beliefs. Gibson hasn’t walked a batter in 14 innings this spring.
Apart from Gibson and Irvin, the rest of Baltimore’s options have limited experience. None of the younger candidates to fill out the rotation — Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez and Tyler Wells — have thrown more than 200 career major league innings.
“If you look at our rotation, we have some guys that don’t have a whole lot of years and Kyle’s the obvious choice from a years standpoint, a veteran in the pitching staff and the rotation,” Hyde said. “But we kind of wanted to see what everybody looked like and not make any snap decisions, but I think as camp went along it was kind of pretty obvious.”
The final month of the regular season last year for Gibson was rocky, when he allowed 31 runs in 28 2/3 innings for the Phillies. It led to minimal usage for him in the postseason. But the reports Hyde got out of Philadelphia were overwhelmingly positive.
Hyde heard how much of a leader Gibson is. His work this spring has only backed it up.
“They were dead on,” Hyde said. “He’s a total class act, great leader in the clubhouse, one of the great leaders of our club. He’s a good starting pitcher, as well. It’s been fun to have him.”
As a new member of an organization, Gibson didn’t assume anything about his role. He was excited when Hyde told him of the honor, and Gibson quietly texted his wife and other family members so they could make plans ahead of the official announcement.
But Gibson knows from past experience that opening day — despite all the pomp and circumstance — is just one start. He recorded only one out in his first attempt, then rebounded for an All-Star caliber campaign.
He’ll hope for better in this attempt, but the long haul of a season is his true focus.
“It does mean a lot. I don’t want to downplay that. Because it is cool,” Gibson said. “But it’s not necessarily something I came here and said, ‘OK, I wanna work to be the opening day guy.’”