Hundreds of starters have taken the mound at least once in a season opener. But some have become much more accustomed to it than others.
Here are the pitchers who have made the most Opening Day starts in history, a list that is filled with legends, including a couple who remain active. (All data is since 1901, the first season for which it is available.)
1) Tom Seaver (16 starts)
Tom Terrific’s record speaks to both his greatness and his longevity. The right-hander was just 23 years old when he started his first opener for the 1968 Mets, in his second season. Seaver was 41 when he started his last, for the ’86 White Sox, in his final season. That makes him one of just 22 pitchers to start at least one Opening Day at 41 or older.
While Seaver started three times for the Reds and twice for the White Sox, his 11 Game 1 assignments for the Mets remains a club record — three ahead of Dwight Gooden. The Hall of Famer was more than up to the challenge, going 6-0 with a 2.13 ERA and 68 strikeouts in those 11 outings with New York. That included a one-run, nine-strikeout complete game against the Phillies in 1975, when he outdueled the next man on this list.
2-tie) Steve Carlton (14 starts)
Bob Gibson had a well-deserved stranglehold on Opening Day duties with the Cardinals early in Carlton’s career, so it wasn’t until Lefty was traded to Philadelphia before the 1972 season that he got a taste of that honor. Carlton made up for lost time, however, making each of his franchise-record 14 Game 1 starts with the Phillies over a 15-year span beginning in ’72.
While Carlton pitched well in losing that duel against Seaver in 1975, he wasn’t always at his best in openers. The four-time National League Cy Young Award winner went 3-9 with a 4.30 ERA in those outings, compared with 238-152 with a 3.06 ERA during the rest of his Phillies tenure.
2-tie) Randy Johnson (14 starts)
The fearsome southpaw ranks second in Mariners history with six Opening Day starts and first in D-backs history with the same total, even though he was already 35 when he made his Arizona debut. He also landed the assignment in both of his seasons with the Yankees in 2005-06, becoming one of just six hurlers to start two Opening Days at age 41 or older.
Johnson posted a 2.49 career ERA in openers, and no other pitcher can approach his 107 strikeouts. True to form, he is responsible for two of the four Opening Day starts of 14 or more strikeouts, reaching that mark for Seattle in both 1993 and ’96.
2-tie) Walter Johnson (14 starts)
The Big Train holds the all-time shutouts record (110), so it’s fitting that he also tops the list on Opening Day (seven). Johnson also ranks first in wins (nine) and innings (124), and his 1.31 ERA is the lowest for any pitcher with at least eight Opening Day starts.
Johnson, who spent his entire 21-year career with the Washington Senators, threw a one-hit shutout in his Opening Day debut as a 22-year-old in 1910. Of his six subsequent shutouts, half lasted extra innings. The longest came in Johnson’s penultimate season (’26), when he allowed just six hits while blanking the Philadelphia Athletics for 15 frames.
2-tie) Jack Morris (14 starts)
From 1980-93, Morris was on the mound for Game 1 every year, setting a record for consecutive Opening Day starts that still stands. The first 11 of those came with the Tigers, before Morris moved to the Twins for one year and the Blue Jays for two.
The righty was stellar in season openers (3.39 ERA), completing five games and throwing at least eight innings eight times. Coincidentally, one of his shortest and least effective outings (4 2/3 innings, seven runs) came for Minnesota in 1991, a season that ended with Morris authoring one of the most famous postseason performances in history, a 10-inning shutout of the Braves in Game 7 of the World Series.
6-tie) Roger Clemens (13 starts)
By the time the Rocket took the mound on Opening Day for the first time in 1988, he already had claimed two of his record seven American League Cy Young Awards in the two previous seasons. Clemens went on to make his first eight Game 1 starts with the Red Sox, the most in club history.
Clemens also did the honors once for the Blue Jays and four times for the Yankees. In his final Opening Day outing for New York against Toronto in 2003, the 40-year-old became the third-oldest pitcher to throw at least six scoreless innings in an opener.
6-tie) Robin Roberts (13 starts)
Roberts’ 12 consecutive Opening Day starts for the Phillies from 1950-61 remains a record for any pitcher with the same team, and the Hall of Famer added one more with the ’66 Astros in his final season.
While Roberts had his share of Game 1 clunkers, he also twirled four complete-game victories in which he allowed no more than two runs. The NL complete-games leader every year from 1952-56, Roberts also began the ’57 campaign with a performance that looks bizarre by modern standards. Facing the Dodgers in Philadelphia, he took a complete-game loss, throwing 190 pitches over 12 innings despite allowing seven runs.
8-tie) Justin Verlander (12 starts)
Verlander’s first nine such starts came for the Tigers, who selected him second overall in the 2004 Draft. Only Morris has started more Opening Days for Detroit than Verlander, who got his initial opportunity in 2008, two years after earning AL Rookie of the Year honors. Verlander’s best performance came in ’12, when he tossed eight scoreless innings against the Red Sox. His past three Opening Day starts have come with the Astros, but Tommy John surgery will prevent him from making No. 13 in 2021.
8-tie) Grover Cleveland Alexander (12 starts)
After a terrific rookie season with the Phillies in 1911 (28-13, 2.57 ERA), Alexander started five of the team’s next six Opening Days in the Deadball Era’s offensively suppressed environment. The Hall of Fame righty struggled in his first try, but then he strung together four straight complete-game victories.
Traded to the Cubs at the end of 1917, Alexander started on Opening Day in his Chicago debut but soon entered the Army, fighting overseas in World War I. He returned too late for the opening of the ’18 season, but he went on to get six more Game 1 assignments in the 1920s with the Cubs and Cardinals, despite the physical and mental toll of battle. Alexander remains the oldest pitcher to record a complete-game victory on Opening Day, having accomplished the feat more than a month past his 42nd birthday for the ’29 Cardinals.
8-tie) Bert Blyleven (12 starts)
Blyleven pitched for five teams over his 22 seasons in the Majors (Twins, Rangers, Pirates, Indians and Angels), and he started on Opening Day at least once for each of them. He is one of just three pitchers to start an opener for five clubs, along with Gaylord Perry and Livan Hernandez (counting the Expos and Nationals separately).
The Hall of Famer’s Opening Day outings spanned generations. Blyleven’s first, for the Twins in 1972, came shortly after his 21st birthday and saw him suit up with a late-career Harmon Killebrew. His last, for the Angels in ’90, came just after his 39th birthday and saw him serve up a home run to 20-year-old Mariners phenom Ken Griffey Jr.
11-tie) Félix Hernández (11 starts)
Hernandez was just shy of his 21st birthday when he made his first Opening Day start, striking out 12 A’s over eight scoreless innings in 2007 to become the second-youngest pitcher with at least a dozen Ks in an opener. That was just the beginning of King Felix’s rich Opening Day history.
After Erik Bedard got the ball over Hernandez in 2008, the right-hander reeled off 10 consecutive Game 1 outings through ’18; the streak came to an end when Marco Gonzales started the Mariners’ 2019 opener against the A’s in Japan.
In his 11 total starts, Hernandez has led the Mariners to nine victories while never allowing more than three earned runs and posting double-digit strikeouts three times. His 1.53 ERA ranks fourth among the 38 pitchers with at least eight such starts. (Clayton Kershaw ranks second, with a 1.05 ERA in eight outings).
Sabathia did the honors five times in six years for the Indians from 2003-08. Upon joining the Yankees the next year, he then reeled off a streak of six straight openers through ’14. That left the lefty one Game 1 start shy of the club record, held by Whitey Ford, Ron Guidry and Mel Stottlemyre.
Unfortunately for Sabathia, openers were not his forte. His 6.12 ERA is the second highest among the 62 pitchers who have made at least seven Opening Day starts, behind only Phil Niekro’s 7.31. Sabathia’s team went 3-8 in those games.
11-tie) Fergie Jenkins (11 starts)
Jenkins leads the Cubs with seven Opening Day starts, one ahead of Carlos Zambrano. The first six of those came between 1967-73, including Jenkins’ NL Cy Young Award season in ’71, which he began with a 10-inning complete-game victory over the Cardinals. The righty later started four openers for the Rangers and Red Sox, but he logged one more with Chicago in his final season (’83), when he was 40 years old.
Jenkins was a dependable Opening Day performer, posting a 2.58 ERA and allowing more than two runs just twice in 11 outings. In a span of four openers for the Cubs from 1970-73, he pitched 31 innings and allowed just six runs (1.74 ERA) and three walks.
11-tie) Dennis Martinez (11 starts)
El Presidente became the first Major Leaguer from Nicaragua in 1976, and he is the only pitcher from that country to start more than once on Opening Day. He didn’t get his first chance to do so until 1982-83, when he took the mound in back-to-back years for the Orioles at ages 27-28.
However, Martinez made most of his Game 1 starts later in his career. His nine openers at age 33 and older tie Carlton and Randy Johnson for the record, and he is among the 20 oldest pitchers to start one, having been just shy of his 42nd birthday with the 1996 Indians.