Forgotten Phillies opening day starters of the last 30 years

Forgotten Phillies opening day starters of the last 30 years

Steve Carlton, Terry Mulholland, Curt Schilling, Roy Halladay. There are certain eras of Phillies baseball over the last 40 years when you knew who was going to have the honor of being named opening day starter before spring training even started. This year, Aaron Nola was poised to take the ball for his third straight opening-day start. 

Since Carlton’s incredible run of starting 14 out of 15 openers, there have been 15 pitchers tabbed to start the season off for the Phillies but not all were household names. Here’s a look back at some of the pitchers you may have forgotten got the nod in Game 1 of 162.

2005-06: Jon Lieber

Lieber had a couple of pretty good seasons with the Cubs early in the 2000s, was an All-Star in ’01 when he won 20 games and started three straight Opening Days for them. But after having Tommy John surgery, he signed with the Yankees, missed all of ’03 and then bounced back with a solid 2004, good enough for the Phillies to sign him.

He won that '05 opener for the Phillies and had a pretty good campaign, winning 17 games and leading the NL in starts. He pitched another two unremarkable years for the Phils, going 12-17 with a 4.87 ERA.

2001/02: Omar Daal/Robert Person

Lumping these two together because it was a transition time for the Phillies. In the midst of their seventh straight sub-.500 finish, the Phillies traded ace Curt Schilling in July of 2000 to Arizona for four players, one of which was Daal. The lefty ended up losing 19 games in 2000, one game short of becoming the first pitcher in 20 years to lose 20. But that was good enough to earn (?) him the opening day start in 2001, the first with Larry Bowa as manager. Daal had a better year, going 13-7, but did have a 4.46 ERA.

Person also had a very solid season, going 15-7 with a 4.19 ERA. That got him the start in the 2002 opener, but he never found the same success on the mound as he did in ’01. At the plate, however, he had one of the more memorable days for a Phillies pitcher this century in a June game vs. Montreal. He hit a grand slam and a 3-run homer, going 3 for 4 with seven RBI.

2000: Andy Ashby

Ashby had come up in the Phillies system in the late '80s and actually made his MLB debut for the club in 1991. He was drafted by the Rockies in the expansion draft and ended up in San Diego, where he flourished. He was a two-time all-star, started a couple of openers and helped lead the Padres to the NL title in 1998.

When the Phillies traded three prospects for Ashby before 2000, they thought it gave them a legit 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation to go along with Schilling (who missed the beginning of 2000 due to injury). However, that didn’t work out. After going 4-7 with a 5.68 ERA, Ashby was traded during the All-Star break to the Braves for Bruce Chen.

1996: Sid Fernandez

Did you even remember Sid Fernandez was a Phillie? From 1994 through 1999, Schilling started five of six opening days for the Phils. When he started ’96 on the DL, in stepped Fernandez for the opening day honor. “El Sid” had some really good seasons with the vaunted Mets staff of the '80s, making a couple of All-Star games and helping them win a World Series.

Almost a decade later, he signed with the Phillies for the second half of the ’95 season and did well, posting a 3.34 ERA and going 6-1. He wasn’t as effective in ’96, which basically ended his career (he pitched one game for Houston the next season).

1990: Bruce Ruffin

Remembered more for his Chris Berman-given nickname, Bruce “Two Minutes For” Ruffin’s career started with a bang. He went 9-4 with a 2.46 ERA for the Phillies in 1986. But it kind of went downhill from there. Over the next five years with the club, he never finished above .500 and had only one year with an ERA below 4.00. But he got the opening day start in 1990 because someone had to. Partly because…

1989: Floyd Youmans

Maybe the original “new guy” that got the nod for the Phillies, Floyd Youmans had a promising start to his career in Montreal. He started the opener in ’87 at the age of 23, but injuries and a suspension derailed his time there. Before the 1989 season, the Phillies got him in a trade for Kevin Gross. Youmans started only 10 games for the Phillies in what was his final MLB season.

1987-1988: Shane Rawley

Rawley actually had a few good years with the Phils. He made the All-Star team in 1986 and won 17 games with a 3.54 ERA. In ’85, he won 13 with a 3.31. So when it came time to replace Carlton for Opening Day, the torch was passed to Rawley.

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We'll be ready — a report from your Phillies production team

We'll be ready — a report from your Phillies production team

Jeff Halikman is the senior producer of Phillies telecasts for the NBC Sports Philadelphia family of networks.

I sit in my family room on what would have been opening day of the 2020 baseball season. Typically it's panic time for the producer, director and associate producer of the Phillies broadcast. A season of 162 games lies ahead and none more anticipated than the first.

The producer and the highly talented editor (person who makes the producers ideas look much better than what was originally planned) are adding the final touches to the “tease,” which is the first thing that hits the air on a television broadcast and sets the scene for the game ahead with drama and excitement. The opening day tease starts the path for the season-long journey and needs to capture the energy of you, the Phillies fans, and what so many of you have anticipated since the final pitch of the previous campaign.

The director (the person during the broadcast who selects the cameras from a chair that doesn’t say director on it) oversees most of the technical needs for a broadcast. While spring training ends and we ramp up toward opening day, the producer and director are making sure everything in Miami will be ready for when we arrive at 9 a.m. for the 4:10 p.m. ET first pitch. 

The television production truck (a 72-foot tractor-trailer that weighs 80,000 pounds and treks all across the nation for sporting events) will be there ready for a crew of 25-plus people to unload every piece of equipment, from cameras to cables and wireless mics. The wireless mic allows everyone to hear Gregg Murphy no matter where he will be roaming in his nomadic ways around Marlins Park and the other ballparks all season long. 

Endless emails, texts and calls have been directed to the crewer (the person who organizes a crew of 25-plus freelance workers for each broadcast no matter where the games are being played) to make sure our crews are set for the first two road series in Miami and New York.  

The associate producer (third and final member of our traveling production team who during the game handles all graphics and statistical information that you see when viewing at home) has been working on a plethora of graphics/statistics since the end of last season. He does so with the support of a multitude of statistic-based companies in our industry that we partner with to be able to acquire every current trend and historical fact to then provide to you to tell each story throughout the year.  

The producer also constantly communicates with the broadcasters. Let’s define “communicates with the broadcasters.” Each day, usually in the morning, the producer sends a rough draft of plans for the game-day ahead. It usually includes simple notes about what time each broadcaster is needed for specific pregame/postgame needs, what will be in the “open” (the first formatted three to four minutes of the broadcast) that consists of the “tease” (highlights and statistical graphics detailing the game ahead or the previous day’s game).  

Emails and texts fly back and forth about the topics and other things. The other things are probably the most vital parts of the day. Other things consist of many discussions and decisions. The most difficult decision of the day is what shirt they will all wear on the broadcast. Tom McCarthy (Phillies play-by-play broadcaster and senior clothing administrator) takes the lead and puts a schedule together of what shirts will be worn by his colleagues Ben Davis, John Kruk and Murph. You wouldn’t believe me on how many quarrels I’ve witnessed about what was meant by dark blue on the schedule and not dark blue with a collar. Yep, like a husband and wife’s daily back and forth, “You think this is dark blue?” Add the greatest third baseman in the history of baseball to the rotation on Sundays at home and you a have shirt schedule labyrinth never to be solved. I won’t even get into the days when Sarge and Wheels were in the mix and keeping track of who wore the wrong shirt the most in a season was part of our broadcast statistics. That’s just the shirts. 

Then we have deliberations about who is eating dinner with who, what’s for dinner, why someone didn’t wait for the other when they went to dinner and what is charcuterie. 

Finally, my favorite part of the day — when one of them says at 6 p.m., “I couldn’t open your email this morning, what are we doing?” But I would never want to be working with any other group. They motivate me, inspire me, challenge me and make coming to work every day from February to October rewarding at a mark of 10 levels above awesome. They bring a wealth of baseball knowledge that elevates our broadcast every night, year after year.    

The final days always wind down way too quickly and the season will be upon us, and once baseball starts, it doesn’t stop. Like an ocean, it just keeps moving, wave after wave of games as we move from winter, to spring, summer and finally the Fall Classic. Baseball waits for no one. You are part of the momentum and it just takes you along for the ride once opening day ceremonies conclude and the first pitch is thrown. I can’t wait … (screeching brakes).

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case and baseball isn’t happening just yet. Baseball is on hold, school is on hold, the world is on hold, work is different, life is different, and we all wait. For what, I’m not sure, but I hope we will all get through this the best we can. I know baseball will return, but like everything else, we don’t know when.

Instead of watching spring baseball highlight recaps early in the morning while my kids get ready for school, we discuss what a shortened or adjusted 2020 schedule will be like, which teams will benefit from the changes and which teams are already burdened with injuries. One son, always the optimist, is planning the Phillies’ march to the postseason and is detailing his parade location. The other son, always the skeptic, purses his lips, shakes his head and questions every part of the roster. No matter the breakfast “hot takes,” every discussion ends with, “When can we go to a game?”

I don’t have an answer for that just yet, but I am 100 percent positive the broadcasters will have on the same shirt and we will be ready to deliver to you every pitch possible of your 2020 Phillies.

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Phillies' Aaron Nola dominates, even on a day when he wasn't dominant

Phillies' Aaron Nola dominates, even on a day when he wasn't dominant

With the newcomers making their mark and incumbent Phillies position players driving in nine runs in an exciting opening day win, Aaron Nola's unsurprisingly strong start flew under the radar.

Although he walked a career-high five batters, Nola allowed just one run over six innings and struck out eight. He threw 99 pitches, recording a popout to Maikel Franco in foul ground to end his afternoon against the Braves.

Nola was not at his best Thursday but was also squeezed by home plate umpire Mike Winters. He wasn't missing the strike zone by much and at times not at all. 

"Obviously I don't want to walk four or five batters, but the misses with the fastball, I'll take that because I didn't think I was missing that bad," he said.

This start went a whole lot different than Nola's last opening day nod. Nola was cruising through 5⅓ innings last opening day when he was lifted at 68 pitches in a now infamous Phils loss. 

This time around, Nola labored more but had the full confidence of his manager, Gabe Kapler, to get through six. The events of last opening day led to a conversation between Kapler and Nola and a different approach the rest of the season. Nola is now a solidified ace. Rarely will you see him pulled out for matchup purposes unless he's struggling or his pitch count has reached an uncomfortably high number. 

"Two totally different starts," Nola said. "I was cruising through last year and I really wasn't cruising as much today. I threw more pitches, but I wanted to finish that inning and keep the game as close as possible. Gabe and I had a talk last year after opening day and he let me go and I got to my goal."

It speaks to Nola's evolution as an elite pitcher that he can post a dominant line even when he's not actually dominating. Last season's 2.37 ERA and .197 opponents' batting average may prove to be unrepeatable, but there's little reason to expect regression from Nola. He achieved those numbers because of his devastating four-pitch arsenal, his consistent delivery and his stoic manner. 

From the day he arrived in the majors, Nola had a knee-buckling two-seam fastball and a sharp, snapping curveball that can fool any hitter. But he's substantially improved his other two pitches. His four-seam fastball averaged 91.2 mph in 2016. Last season, it was 93.5. His changeup last season held hitters to a .243 batting average compared to .299 the year before.

Nola has grown into this pitcher, and that progression was a major reason the Phillies felt comfortable making not one but five win-now moves this offseason. The emergences of Nola and Rhys Hoskins provided the Phillies a stable core.

All of the talk Thursday was about the Phillies' offense. The grand slam from Hoskins after Bryce Harper was intentionally walked. The full-count, three-run home run from Maikel Franco out of the eight-hole.

About seven minutes into an interview with Hoskins, the first baseman noticed nobody had asked about the ace.

"Something we haven’t talked about yet, obviously Nola. Pretty standard out of Nola," he said. "He scuffled a little bit and then he settled in and did what he does."

Nola was helped at one point by his new battery-mate, J.T. Realmuto, who fired a perfect strike to second base to nab Freddie Freeman on a stolen base attempt. Freeman got a good jump but Realmuto had a better reaction. Realmuto has held MLB's fastest pop time — the transition from a catcher receiving the baseball, jumping up and releasing the ball — for several years.

"Nola was really good," Realmuto said. "The times he was missing, he was missing on the right side of the plate. He’s a guy who can command the baseball like no other."

The Phillies' 10 runs matched the most they've scored for Nola in his last 60 starts. With this team around him, it would be a surprise if he doesn't exceed last year's win total of 17.

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