Two teams coming off 100-loss seasons are looking forward to brighter times in 2023 as the Pittsburgh Pirates visit the Cincinnati Reds Thursday in the first contest of a three-game series.
The Reds and Pirates each finished 62-100, tied for last in the National League Central in 2022.
Hunter Greene (5-13, 4.44 ERA in 2022) gets his first Opening Day start for Cincinnati and will be opposed by fellow right-hander Mitch Keller (5-12, 3.91 ERA in 2022), also getting his first career Opening Day assignment.
"There's a lot of people around me that have helped me along my way and through thick and thin, and through the good times, too," Keller said. "It's a really cool moment for everybody involved, not just myself. It's really cool."
In 2022, Keller posted career highs in innings (159) and strikeouts (138), while producing a 3.91 ERA. For his career against the Reds, Keller is 1-4 with a 6.80 ERA in 11 career starts, including an 0-1 mark in three starts vs. Cincinnati last season.
Keller leads a group of talented Pirates prospects that they hope can trend the club toward respectability in 2023. Shortstop Oneil Cruz, third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes, pitcher Roansy Contreras and outfielder Jack Suwinski are all expected to be big contributors this season for Pittsburgh, which suffered its second straight 100-loss season in 2022.
For Greene, the expectations were even greater in Cincinnati in 2022. In his rookie season, the young starting pitcher made headlines with a fastball that was clocked at 100 mph or higher 337 times.
But Greene struggled with consistency, enduring personal losing streaks of five and six games in the midst of his first MLB season, with one of those setbacks coming against the Pirates. He was 0-1 with a 0.68 ERA in two career starts against the Pirates.
But the Reds believe Greene is the anchor of a young and talented rotation also featuring lefty Nick Lodolo and right-hander Graham Ashcraft, all of whom made their debuts in 2022.
"It's a great feeling," Greene said of his first Opening Day nod vs. Pittsburgh. "I don't take it for granted at all. So, it's definitely a blessing but I'm not surprised. I'm not shocked just because of the work that I've put in, the discipline I've had just wanting to grow, between last spring training to now. It's a great position to be in and (I'm) really, really excited for the season."
The Reds are trying to avoid a disastrous start like last season, when -- after opening 2-2 -- they lost 20 of 21 to fall out of the race in early May. That start combined with a 6-20 end to the season produced just the second 100-loss season in the 142-year history of baseball's first professional franchise.
"We've talked about working just from day one, like getting after it from the very first drill, very first day, like working, working, working to get ready for this," Reds manager David Bell said. "We improved. So, not only are we ready, I think we're set up to be really strong as a team to take on whatever comes our way and every team goes through challenges. That may, in the end, be even more important than being ready Opening Day, which I believe we are."
The Pirates' biggest offseason addition was bringing back Andrew McCutchen, a five-time All-Star who won the 2013 NL MVP with the Pirates. The star outfielder has been dealing with right elbow discomfort that may force him to start the season as the club's DH.
"We've got to see how his arm responds," Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. "He knows his body. He knows what he's doing. He's the last guy I worry about preparation-wise."
"It's all good," said McCutchen, who also left Sunday's spring game after being hit on the left hand with a pitch. "I'm fine. I'll be good. No worries."
--Field Level Media