Blue Jays: Forgotten Opening Day starters over the years

Esteban Loaiza #21 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws.
Esteban Loaiza #21 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws. / Rick Stewart/GettyImages

The Toronto Blue Jays will enter the 2023 season with a clear understanding of what their starting rotation will look like.

Alek Manoah, fresh off his Cy Young finalist season, has been confirmed as the club's Opening Day starter. Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, and José Berríos will follow while Yusei Kikuchi, who dominated in Spring Training, secured the fifth spot.

Things weren’t always so smooth when it came to the team’s staff, even the starter for the first game. Here are some forgotten Opening Day starters over the years.

Mark Bomback, 1982

You may think that there would be a lot of “early days Jays” on this list. On the contrary, Toronto did well to fill its roster with capable starters and although Bill Singer went 2-8 with a 6.79 ERA in his lone season, he’ll always be a trivia question and answer as the very first Opening Day starter.

A few years later, Manager Bobby Cox gave Mark Bomback the assignment for the first game of the season against the Milwaukee Brewers. Cox did a great job turning the franchise around, but this was not one of his better moves.

Indicative of the way his season would unfold, Bomback was unable to get out of the first inning, surrendering six earned runs, getting just one out, and exiting with an ERA of 162. Things didn’t go much better for the right-hander the rest of the way as he went 1-5 with a 6.03 ERA in his last season in the majors.

Erik Hanson, 1996

Following the back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993, the Blue Jays had to pivot to try to replace some of the talents that went elsewhere.

Bringing in Erik Hanson, coming off an All-Star season with the Boston Red Sox, seemed like a smart signing. However, a closer look at his 1995 season suggests that Hanson was on the decline and continued to regress as the season went on. 

Over his first 12 starts his ERA was 2.91, in his next 17, it ballooned to 5.19.

Hanson did get his 1996 season off to a good start, tossing seven innings of three-run ball to earn the win. However, it was mostly downhill from there. He had nine starts with at least five earned runs allowed and had pitcher game scores of eight, 10, and 13. Hanson pitched reasonably well over the final two months (3.33 ERA in 12 starts in August and September) to lower his Earned Run Average from a ghastly 6.73 to a still-terrible-but-slightly-better 5.41.

Esteban Loaiza, 2001

While the Jays acquired Hanson and saw his effectiveness diminish, Esteban Loaiza enjoyed the best year of his career for another team after getting the first starting gig of the 2001 season.

He was traded to Toronto in the Michael Young trade midway through the 2000 season and had a good stretch of play (5-7, 3.62 ERA) that lead to him getting the top job the following year.

Like Hanson, Loaiza started strong when handed the baseball for the first game, and twirled seven good innings, while giving up just one run and striking out nine. He’d keep up the good numbers through April, going 4-1 with a 2.77 ERA, and also fared well in September, going 2-0 with a 3.34 ERA, but from May through August his ERA was 6.16, which wasn’t helped by a .332 BAbip. After one more disappointing season, Loaiza signed with the Chicago White and was somehow a Cy Young finalist in 2003.

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