Greinke to make first Opening Day start

Greinke to make first Opening Day start

KANSAS CITY -- Royals manager Trey Hillman wasn't going to let the Super Bowl make all the news on Sunday. He had a bulletin of his own: Zack Greinke will start on Opening Day against the Detroit Tigers.

Now that's not exactly startling news. After all, Greinke did win the American League Cy Young Award for his superb 2009 season. But it's certainly a very early announcement, especially for Hillman who has been extremely cautious before naming Gil Meche to start the openers the past two years.

Opening Day, April 5 at Kauffman Stadium, is almost two months away.

"Zack is starting on Opening Day and Gil will pitch Game 2, barring anything unforeseen, and both those guys know that already," Hillman said Sunday from his Texas home.

Hillman was in the midst of doing a phone interview about upcoming Spring Training when he dropped his little news flash.

"I wanted to give you a little bit more," Hillman said with a chuckle. "I know that's earth-shattering."

Greinke was the overwhelming choice as the American League Cy Young Award winner after a 16-8, 2.16-ERA season.

"I'd really be a stupid idiot if I didn't start him Opening Day, wouldn't I?" Hillman said.

That sets up a probable pitching matchup of Greinke against Justin Verlander, the Tigers' ace who tied for the Major League lead with 19 victories.

"Yeah, I would think so," Hillman said. "That would be a great Opening Day matchup right there."

Hillman gave Greinke the news after he'd accepted his Cy Young Award recently at the baseball writers' dinner in New York.

"He was very appreciative," Hillman said. "And even a little bit nostalgic, which was good to hear. I asked him, 'I didn't get to see the award, what did it look like?' He said, 'Oh, it's a plaque, and the cool thing is they've probably kept it the same after all these years, and I like stuff like that.'"

Greinke told Hillman he gave the plaque to his parents for safekeeping.

This will be Greinke's first Opening Day start. Meche had started the past three openers for the Royals. He beat Boston, 7-1, at Kansas City in 2007; had a no-decision in an 11-inning, 5-4 win at Detroit in 2008, and a no-decision in a 4-2 loss at Chicago last year. In the three games, Meche allowed just five earned runs in 20 1/3 innings for a 2.22 ERA.

Meche certainly had no qualms about Greinke having the honor this year.

"He said, 'I would hope so -- the guy won the Cy Young Award'" Hillman related. "And I said, 'Well, I didn't want to insult your intelligence, I figured you knew but I just wanted to go ahead and make it official before I was asked the question.'"

Meche sounded relieved.

"He goes, 'Good, I'm glad we're doing this early because it drives me nuts when they all ask me about it,'" Hillman said.

In 2008, Hillman didn't announce Meche as the Opening Day starter until March 15. Last year, with Meche battling back problems, Hillman waited until March 24 to make it official. Now, on Feb. 7, the word is out: Greinke.

So there you have it. Hillman has kicked off the Royals' season with some news.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.