Iglesias starts first full season on Opening Day

Cuban right-hander to face Phillies at home April 4

Iglesias starts first full season on Opening Day

GOODYEAR, Ariz. - Most of the time, but not always, the Reds have given the honor of starting Opening Day to the rotation ace, a long-tenured veteran or the pitcher coming off of the best season the year before.

Circumstances forced the Reds into a different direction for Monday vs. the Phillies at 4:10 p.m., as Raisel Iglesias will be handed the ball. Anthony DeSclafani, the team's best returning starter from last season, will open the year on the disabled list with a left oblique strain and is expected to return for the fifth spot on April 10.

That cleared the way for Iglesias, who experienced a Major League Opening Day for the first time last year. After defecting from Cuba in November of 2013, he did not pitch in '14.

"I was in the bullpen that day because I was maybe in need of pitching for the team, but it was a really beautiful team," Iglesias said via translator Tomas Vera. "And now when I'm pitching, I'm going to enjoy the moment."

In his rookie season, the 26-year-old Iglesias was 3-7 with a 4.15 ERA in 18 games including 16 starts. In 95 1/3 innings, he allowed 81 hits and 28 walks with 104 strikeouts and a 1.14 WHIP.

Johnny Cueto started the previous four openers for Cincinnati. Aaron Harang started five straight Opening Days from 2006-10 with Edinson Volquez getting the job in between them in 2011.

Iglesias to start on Opening Day

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last Reds pitcher to start on Opening Day with 16 or fewer starts was Frank Pastore in 1980. Pastore also had 95 innings pitched for his career.

Iglesias will be the fifth pitcher in the Major Leagues since 2000 to start on Opening Day with less than 20 career starts.

Here are the previous four:

  • 2014: Sonny Gray for the A's (10 starts, 64 innings pitched before).
  • 2012: Stephen Strasburg for the Nationals (17 starts, 92 innings).
  • 2003: Runelvys Hernandez for the Royals (12 starts, 74 1/3 innings)
  • 2003: John Lackey for the Angels (18 starts, 108 1/3 innings).

Iglesias will also become the second Cuban pitcher to start for the Reds on an Opening Day. Dolf Luque did it in 1921 vs. the Pirates and in 1928 vs. the Cubs.

Iglesias strikes out Cron

When Spring Training opened, Iglesias was targeted for the April 10 start vs. the Pirates. After his 2015 season ended a little early in mid-September because of right shoulder fatigue, the training and medical staff had him undergo a shoulder flexibility program throughout the offseason. The work carried into the start of camp, and Iglesias made his debut a little later this spring on March 14.

There were three Cactus League starts, plus a start on Wednesday in a Minor League game where he threw 74 pitches. The belief is he is stretched out enough to get to 90 pitches vs. Philadelphia. The shoulder has felt great throughout camp, according to Iglesias, leaving him open for the adjustment in the timetable.

"The way my arm was feeling in the past, it wasn't a surprise for me the decision the team made to have me start later in Spring Training," Iglesias said. "Mentally, I was prepared to be ready for that first day in any way, whatever the team needed. I was prepared for that first day to be a reliever or a starter and now I'm ready for them. I have to thank God, because I'm healthy and I'm really happy to be able to start the season from Day 1."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.