Cole honored to be Opening Day starter

Righty excited for first trip to Fenway Park as a pitcher

Cole honored to be Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, Fla. -- For Gerrit Cole, the news was exciting, the status an honor and the setting a bonus. The certainty of knowing when his first start will take place is pretty nice, too.

Cole will make his first Opening Day start for the Pirates on April 3 at Fenway Park against the Red Sox. Manager Clint Hurdle informed Cole, Jameson Taillon and Ivan Nova of their spots in the rotation on Saturday. Now, Cole has more than a month to work through Spring Training with a specific date in mind.

"It was something that I was working toward," Cole said. "It was pretty cool."

The assignment was essentially a foregone conclusion. Cole isn't Pittsburgh's most experienced starter -- that would be Nova, slated to pitch the home opener on April 7 vs. the Braves -- but he is the rotation's leader and most proven pitcher when healthy. He was one of the National League's best in 2015, finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

Last year was a different story, with health playing a prominent part. He was behind schedule from the start of Spring Training, then made three trips to the disabled list in the regular season due to a triceps strain and posterior elbow inflammation. The injuries limited him to 21 starts, and he took a step back with a 7-10 record and 3.88 ERA.

"[Being healthy] this year's a little bit of a different vibe coming into the spring," Cole said. "It's really special. It's an honor to be selected to do this. Based off last year, I don't know. This is a new year."

Hurdle names Opening Day starter

Having a set schedule so early in Spring Training is a stark contrast to where Cole stood at this time last year. He spent most of the spring playing catch-up after recovering from rib inflammation and couldn't start on Opening Day, so the Pirates gave the nod to Francisco Liriano.

Cole doesn't have to worry this spring about scheduling his next outing, simulated game or bullpen session. Pitching coach Ray Searage has plotted out timelines for Cole, Taillon and Nova.

"It's nice. You start focusing on the day-to-day activities rather than trying to juggle what you're going to do next week or whatever," Cole said. "I don't have every single day mapped out, but the fact that Ray and them do, it's just out of your mind now. You can go take care of business."

Some pitchers say making the first start of the season amid the pageantry of Opening Day is a tremendous honor. Others aren't particularly affected, noting it's just one of 30-something they'll make and one of 162 games their team will play. Cole is able to appreciate both competing emotions.

"To say that it's not important more so than other ones, it is. It's the first game of the year," Cole said. "But I've got 30 starts to make, and each win or loss is equally as important."

This will be Cole's second trip to Fenway Park and his first as a Major League pitcher. He previously visited the historic ballpark for a workout with Team USA.

"I'm excited," Cole said. "I'm a sucker for Wrigley, so I feel I'll probably be a sucker for Fenway, too."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.