In 1998, the Padres had a bona-fide ace in their staff and an obvious choice for their opening day starter.
In December, the previous year the Marlins traded Kevin Brown to the Padres after their World Series run in which they lost to the Cleveland Indians. Kevin Brown would pitch a great first game in 1998, again alluding to a magical season, while pitching 6.1 strong innings and striking out seven, in a big win over the Cincinnati Reds 10-2. In both seasons in which the Padres made the World Series, the opening day starting pitchers won their games.
As the millennium turned, the Padres ran many different starting day pitchers out there for the first half of the decade, but toward the end the spot was solidified by a Padre farm system, fan favorite, and Cy Young winner, Jake Peavy. Jake, a 15th rounder, 472nd overall pick by the Padres in 2002, was one of those guys that immediately felt like an ingrained player in the Padres’ organization. In fact, many could argue that he is the second-rated starter in Padres history, only second to Randy Jones.
If he would have had his choice, and stayed healthy, he would have liked to play out his entire career at Petco. If that was the case, it is probable that number 44 would be hanging right next to 35 on the list of Padres retired numbers. This era was one of those rare strings of years in which the Padres had a legitimate ace. On July 31, 2009, Peavy reluctantly agreed to a trade to the White Sox, his storied and successful relationship with the Padres ended.
Peavy pitched in four consecutive opening days, spanning from 2006 through 2009, compiling an impressive record of 3-1, including two shutouts and a one-run game. Peavy was such an effective opening day starter, as well as a dominant pitcher, that he got the opening day nod in 2006 for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic as well. In an interview regarding his opening day start in 2009, Peavy stated, “Opening day is a special day, there’s a lot of excitement from the guys getting out spring of training. It’s a cool deal and it’s an honor on a staff of other pitchers like Chris Young. It’s special and you just want to set the tone for a good year and a chance to win. In the big scheme of things, it’s just another start.” (USA Today, April 5, 2009)
To finish out the Bud Black era (2007-2015), the Friars saw a couple different faces take the mound in attempts to define the cornerstone of the pitching staff and have someone capture the title of rotation ace. A head coach who once was a starting pitcher puts a little more emphasis on who the opening day starter is. It’s a mark of confidence. In a 2013 interview by Corey Brock on mlb.com, “Volquez Gets Opening Day Start for Padres”, Bud Black stated, regarding Volquez’ nod, “I do think it’s a feather in the cap — a special day,” Black said. “You look for experience and how he is going to handle it. I do like that he pitched the first game for his country [Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic], He had a solid year last year and we think he can build off that.” That would be Volquez’ second consecutive opening day start for the Padres and third overall. He expressed his feelings on the matter, stating, “[Black] told me today, and it was a big moment,” Volquez said. “I’m excited about Opening Day No. 3. It’s a big honor.” Between both starts, in 2012 and 2013, Volquez went 0-2, and gave up 16 runs. Ouch.
Over the last couple of years, the Padres have put Andrew Cashner, James Shields, and Tyson Ross on the mound for opening day, with hopes that one of those pitchers would step up and become the Padres new ace. Now that 2017 is upon us, new Padre skipper, Andy Green, will turn to Jhoulys Chacin to face the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw on April 3, 2017.