Now that pitchers and catchers have reported to camp, we can get down to the business of slotting the rotation. Let's be honest, before this year, the Reds' number one starter has been a mere formality even before they reported. This year, however, is a different story all together.
Let's look at the candidates and why they should get the nod on Opening Day:
- Aaron Harang: Harang has been the Opening Day starter for what seems like the last decade straight and for good reason. Coming into this spring training, that isn't the case any more. Coming off now two sub-par years, Harang isn't the pitcher we had known to love as a Red: consistent, reliable, and a winner. Could he be on the downs slide already? Well, if the Reds hope to compete this year, he better not be or it'll be another sub-.500 season. It could also very well be his last in a Reds uniform as his contract expires after 2010. He does have an option, but one that would most likely be declined by the team. Still, he has been there before and he could be there again with a solid spring.
- Bronson Arroyo: Easily the Reds' best pitcher last year. Really came on down the stretch. Facing nemesis Dave Duncan in the opener could be a motivational factor to perform well, too. The only thing I don't like about Bronson throwing the opener is it's a day game and we all know how he hates pitching in the sun (well, we hope the sun is out). Aside from that, he has never pitched an opening day game before...not that it would rattle him. He doesn't seem to get rattled much. He would be the odds-on guy for me right now though.
- Johnny Cueto: Clearly the guy with the best "stuff" on the staff. Coming off a so-so 11-11 year, he needs to gain some consistency before being anointed the staff "ace". Like Arroyo, he's obviously never pitched an opener before. Odds aren't so great. But, with a lights-out spring, you never know. Note: sorry about the picture above. It would seem a bit deceiving to put a picture of Cueto up there asking who the ace is and then basically knock that theory off immediately. It was the only good picture I could find in a hurry.
- Homer Bailey: Without a doubt the most positive development down the stretch last year was Homer Bailey's re-birth so to speak. The former #1 prospect seemed to have finally tapped into what had made him so highly-regarded prior to his miserable stints with the big club. Hopefully, he has finally found "it" and we'll see more of the same this year. Still, the odds on him opening the season April 5 against the Cardinals are very long. He hasn't pitched a full season in the majors yet, let alone pitch an opener. Very long shot.
- Dave Burba: In a fitting tribute, the Reds trade away Harang, Arroyo, Cueto, and Bailey to allow Burba to come out of retirement and finally pitch on Opening Day for the Reds 12 years after he was initially slated to do it for the first time...before being unceremoniously traded to the Indians the day before the start of the season. It was yanked out from under him and this would be a fitting tribute. It would also be a cold day in hell before this would happen...thankfully.
If I had to lay money on it, however, I'd go with Arroyo.