Cincinnati Reds: Will Sonny Gray start Opening Day?

GOODYEAR, AZ - FEBRUARY 19: Sonny Gray #54 of the Cincinnati Reds poses for a portrait at the Cincinnati Reds Player Development Complex on February 19, 2019 in Goodyear, Arizona. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)r caption here>> on February 19, 2019 in Goodyear, Arizona.
GOODYEAR, AZ - FEBRUARY 19: Sonny Gray #54 of the Cincinnati Reds poses for a portrait at the Cincinnati Reds Player Development Complex on February 19, 2019 in Goodyear, Arizona. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)r caption here>> on February 19, 2019 in Goodyear, Arizona. /
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Sonny Gray has drawn the first start of the Cactus League for the Cincinnati Reds when they play the Cleveland Indians. Will Gray get the first start of the regular season?

Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reported on Tuesday that Sonny Gray will draw the first start of the Cactus League for the Cincinnati Reds when they play the Cleveland Indians on Saturday in Arizona. Is this is signal that Gray is going to get the ball when the regular season begins on March 28th in Cincinnati? I’m not counting on it.

The Cincinnati Reds made an investment this offseason when they traded Shed Long and a competitive balance pick to the New York Yankees for Sonny Gray. The Reds signed Gray to a 3-year extension worth $30.5 million and, in effect, made him a key piece of the starting rotation going forward.

Like a lot of fans, I was skeptical at first, but there’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic about Gray in a Reds uniform. The Big Apple was none to kind to Sonny Gray, but away from Yankee Stadium he was 7-5 in 15 games with a 3.17 ERA. Thank goodness he doesn’t have to worry about a road trip to the Bronx this summer.

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Reuniting Sonny Gray with his former college pitching coach, Derek Johnson, can’t hurt either. If there’s anybody woh knows how to get the best out of Gray, it’s likely to be Johnson. Gray was selected in the 1st round of the 2011 MLB Draft after going 12-4 in his junior year at Vanderbilt. Gray owned a 2.34 ERA and struck out 134 batters while leading the Commodores to the College World Series.

However, when it comes to the idea of being the Opening Day, I am a bit skeptical. Even David Bell has not committed to Gray as the Opening Day starter when the season begins on March 28th against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I tend to think that Gray fits into the No. 3 slot in this year’s rotation. Gray seemed unable to handle the pressures that come with playing in New York, and he’s definitely not alone in that fact. So why would you put the pressure of making him the No. 1 starter in a season when everyone is looking for him to bounce back?

If the season started today, Luis Castillo would be my choice for the Opening Day starter, followed closely by left-hander Alex Wood. Castillo had a dominant end to his 2018 season and hopefully he’s able to pick up where he left off. Castillo closed the 2018 season with a 1.09 ERA in 5 games while striking out 34 batters.

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Spring Training will go a long toward seeing who emerges as the Opening Day starter. The Reds have three viable options, but I’d keep Gray on the outside looking in if I were Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell. Look for Gray to have a bounce back campaign in 2019, just not as the No. 1 starter for the Reds.