7:14 PM UTC
KANSAS CITY — Two new eras will begin on Thursday when the Guardians and Royals kick off the 2022 season at Kauffman Stadium.
Bobby Witt Jr. is set to make his debut as Kansas City’s starting third baseman, ushering in the next wave of young talent as one of the best prospects the organization has seen.
Cleveland players will debut “Guardians” across their chests, a different team name for the first time since 1915 and a nod to the 43-foot “Guardians of Traffic” that have stood tall for nearly 100 years on the Hope Memorial Bridge. These sculptures are meant to symbolize progress, a concept that’s now trickling over to the city’s baseball team.
The Royals and Guardians will play 19 times over the 2022 season as American League Central opponents, including a six-game stretch in Cleveland to end the season after MLB moved the original opening series to account for the season’s delay.
And it all starts Thursday. Here is everything you need to know about Opening Day:
When is the game and how can I watch it?
First pitch on Thursday is scheduled for 4:10 p.m. ET/3:10 CT. The game will be televised live on MLB.TV, Bally Sports Kansas City and Bally Sports Ohio. Fans can listen on 610 Sports Radio and the Guardians Radio Network.
The starting lineups
Guardians: Let’s get the guarantees out of the way first. Jose Ramirez will absolutely be at third, and Myles Straw will lead off and play in center. Franmil Reyes will handle the DH duties, and Austin Hedges will be behind the dish. From there, it’s not so certain, especially in the middle infield. The Guardians have run Amed Rosario out to left field a handful of times over the last week or two of Spring Training, which seemingly should add some depth to the offense. So we’ll assume Cleveland will start him in left and have Andres Gimenez and Yu Chang up the middle. However, Rosario could be at shortstop, and everything else could be reshuffled. And Steven Kwan could easily start in right field over a struggling Bradley Zimmer.
1. Myles Straw, CF
2. Amed Rosario, LF
3. Jose Ramirez, 3B (S)
4. Franmil Reyes, DH
5. Bobby Bradley, 1B (L)
6. Yu Chang, 2B
7. Andres Gimenez, SS (L)
8. Bradley Zimmer, RF (L)
9. Austin Hedges, C
Royals: With the official announcement of Witt’s debut, it’s likely we’ll see him in the No. 2 spot behind Whit Merrifield. The Whit-Witt combo gives the Royals two on-base hitters for Salvador Perez, who will look to build on his historic 2021 season. Manager Mike Matheny has experimented with Andrew Benintendi in the No. 3 hole, so it’s possible we see that order to give Kansas City a lefty bat at the top of the order. Hunter Dozier and Carlos Santana are both looking for bounce-back years, and they seem set in the middle of the order, followed by dynamic hitter Adalberto Mondesi, who lengthens the lineup with his power and speed. Michael A. Taylor and Nicky Lopez give the Royals speed at the bottom of the lineup as it turns over. Kyle Isbel and Ryan O’Hearn are the lefty options off the bench, and Edward Olivares is the right-handed hitter off the bench.
1. Whit Merrifield, RF
2. Bobby Witt Jr., 3B
3. Salvador Perez, C
4. Andrew Benintendi, LF (L)
5. Carlos Santana, 1B (S)
6. Hunter Dozier, DH
7. Adalberto Mondesi, SS (S)
8. Michael A. Taylor, CF
9. Nicky Lopez, 2B (L)
Who are the starting pitchers?
Guardians: There was no surprise when Shane Bieber was announced as the team’s Opening Day starter, but the 26-year-old righty said it was still special to learn that he’ll be able to ring in the new chapter in Cleveland’s storied franchise history. Bieber will be tied with Bob Feller for the second-most Opening Day starts before turning 27 (three), trailing CC Sabathia and Willie Mitchell (four each).
Bieber is looking to set the tone for 2022 after a disappointing and injury-riddled ’21 season. After missing three months due to a right shoulder injury, Bieber was able to get back for a pair of three-inning outings before the ’21 season came to a close. That taste of action just left him hungry for more, which he hopes will translate into immediate success in ’22.
Royals: It’ll be Zack Greinke on the mound, wearing a Royals uniform for the first time since 2010, which also happened to be his first Opening Day start. Twelve years later, Greinke has returned to the organization that drafted him No. 6 overall in ’02, marking the longest gap between Opening Day pitching starts for any player on the same team. Kansas City signed the 38-year-old Greinke to a one-year deal this spring to lead its young pitching staff, and there’s no better way to do that than setting the tone on Day 1 of the season. Greinke is coming off a ’21 season in which he started Opening Day for the Astros and made 30 appearances (29 starts), posted a 4.16 ERA and struck out 120 in 171 innings.
How might the bullpens line up after the starter?
Guardians: The shortened spring has forced Cleveland to get a little more creative than it’s used to, considering the team has been able to rely so heavily on its rotation over the past few years. But now, Bieber and the rest of the starting crew have limited pitch counts because they’ve made only three starts this spring. So the Guardians will likely turn to a piggybacking system at the beginning of the season, allowing four starters (Bieber, Cal Quantrill, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac) to handle the first three or four frames before long relievers or starters (like Triston McKenzie, Logan Allen, Sam Hentges or Eli Morgan) work the next three or four. That is, of course, if all goes to plan. And like last season, Emmanuel Clase will be waiting for the ball at the end of the game.
Royals: Kansas City was pleasantly surprised to see its starters come in to Spring Training already on a good progression and getting built up to Opening Day, but there will likely be pitch limits for some of the younger starters, like Kris Bubic and Carlos Hernandez, during the first month of the season. So the Royals will have some length in their bullpen in Jackson Kowar and Taylor Clarke if they need a bridge between the starter and the back of the ‘pen. The high-leverage group Matheny will turn to will include lefties Jake Brentz and Amir Garrett and right-handers Josh Staumont and Scott Barlow. Matheny has pushed back on the traditional closer role, saying if Barlow — Kansas City’s most dependable reliever — is needed in the seventh at the turning point of the game, that’s when he’ll pitch. Matheny hasn’t been afraid to go after wins like that, and 2022 won’t be any different.
Any injuries of note?
Guardians: The most notable injury is to Josh Naylor, who will spend at least the first week of the season at Triple-A Columbus, getting more at-bats under his belt before joining the big league club. He was able to get into three Cactus League games, but the Guardians want to make sure he’s more than prepared for big league action after rehabbing his lower right leg (fractures and ligament tears) for the past eight-plus months.
Cleveland has two other injuries that threw a wrench into its plans just prior to Opening Day. Reliever James Karinchak started dealing with right arm soreness and will remain in Arizona when the team breaks camp to work on ramping himself back up. The other name on the injured list is backstop Luke Maile, who strained his left hamstring while running the bases on March 23, leaving the backup catching duties to Bryan Lavastida, who hasn’t had any Major League experience.
Royals: Amazingly, Kansas City stayed relatively healthy throughout the spring, although that should follow with as many “knock on wood” statements as possible. Reliever Tyler Zuber came into camp with shoulder soreness and was placed on the 60-day injured list with right shoulder impingement syndrome. Taylor battled some left hip tightness this spring that the Royals were cautious with, but he should be good to go for Opening Day.
Who’s hot and who’s not?
Guardians: Utility man Ernie Clement, infielder Owen Miller and Kwan, an outfielder, have had impressive camps. Not only has Clement been solid at the plate (.467 average, 1.269 OPS), but there has hardly been a game without a highlight-worthy defensive play made by him. On the other hand, outfielders Zimmer and Oscar Mercado haven’t had the same luck. Zimmer struck out 16 times in 32 Cactus League at-bats. And Mercado went just 8-for-35 (.229) in 14 contests.
Royals: Kansas City’s lineup has looked well-rounded this spring, with Witt turning heads with his talent and three Cactus League home runs. Two hitters even hotter, though, are Isbel and Olivares. In Cactus League play, Isbel posted a 1.163 OPS with three homers, while Olivares slightly one-upped Isbel with a 1.497 OPS. Dozier has been red-hot, too, with a 1.000 OPS in 13 games, exactly what the Royals wanted to see out of him this spring. Kansas City’s pitching results weren’t great, and the staff as a whole will have to turn things around, starting with throwing first-pitch strikes and avoiding walks.
Anything else fans might want to know?
o The Royals are wearing a patch to honor Art Stewart this season, the longtime scout who died in November at 94. The patch features Stewart’s signature, which was on the contracts of the many Kansas City players he signed over his tenure with the club, which began in 1969.
o Kansas City has built an elite defensive team this season, with Gold Glove Award candidates at almost every position. Greinke has won six, Perez has won five and Taylor and Benintendi each won his first Gold Glove Award last season. Merrifield was a candidate at second base last season and could be considered one in right field, and if Mondesi stays healthy at shortstop, he should be in the mix. The same goes for Lopez at second after he narrowly missed out on being a finalist at shortstop. And the Royals firmly believe Witt will be a Gold Glove-caliber player wherever he plays, including third base this year.
o Having one ace to consistently turn to is commonplace in Northeast Ohio, as Bieber is preparing for his third consecutive Opening Day start, after Corey Kluber took the previous five openers and Justin Masterson handled the three before Kluber. The last time Cleveland had different starters in three consecutive season openers was 2009 (Cliff Lee), ’10 (Jake Westbrook) and ’11 (Roberto Hernandez).
o The 28 Guardians players will be an average of 26 years, 253 days old on Thursday. It’ll be the fifth-youngest Opening Day roster in MLB over the past 30 years (and youngest since 2006) by average age, following the 1998 Marlins (26 years, 64 days), ’99 Marlins (26 years, 167 days),’06 Marlins (26 years, 172 days) and ’95 Expos (26 years, 248 days).