Walker Buehler is chosen Dodgers’ opening day starter for first time in his career

Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler delivers a pitch.
Walker Buehler, shown pitching against the Atlanta Braves in the 2021 National League Championship Series, will be the Dodgers’ starter on opening day April 8 against the Colorado Rockies.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

There was no formal meeting. No grand announcement. No ceremonial declaration.

Instead, the changing of the guard occurred in a brief conversation between manager and pitcher at the Dodgers’ spring training complex Thursday morning.

Walker Buehler will be the team’s opening day starter when the season kicks off on April 8 in Colorado, manager Dave Roberts announced shortly after informing the pitcher, giving the 27-year-old right-hander his first career opening day nod — and marking the first time in more than a decade that Clayton Kershaw won’t pitch the season opener for a reason other than injury.


Since 2011, Kershaw has missed an opening day start only twice: In 2019, when he had left shoulder inflammation, and in 2020 because of back stiffness.

Clayton Kershaw’s mindset might have led to visits to the injured list and millions in lost wages, but it’s also why he’s the most admired Dodger.

But this year, the future Hall of Famer will slot into the rotation behind Buehler, the burgeoning ace who cemented himself last season as the top arm on the team.

While Kershaw battled an elbow injury during the 2021 campaign, Buehler had a career-best season. He led the team’s starters with a 2.47 ERA (excluding midseason addition Max Scherzer), 212 strikeouts and 5.5 wins above replacement, according to Fangraphs. He made four starts in the postseason, including two on short rest. He came into spring training as seemingly the most important pitcher on the staff.

But opening day has been an annual honor belonging to Kershaw for years.

Not since 2010 had he been passed over for the season opener when healthy. And that year, after Vicente Padilla began the season ahead of the then-third year left-hander, Kershaw quickly emerged as one of the club’s all-time great pitchers, going on to make a franchise-record nine opening day starts including last season.

Even amid his own rise in recent years, Buehler has always deferred to Kershaw as the leader of the staff, reiterating earlier this week: “For me, if he’s wearing our jersey, then he’s our guy.”

Roberts said the time was right this season to pass the ceremonial start to Buehler, who has a career 2.90 ERA and has twice finished in the top 10 of Cy Young Award voting since making his debut in 2017.

“It’s one game, we all understand that,” Roberts said. “But it’s ceremonious … and that’s a feather in his cap for what he’s done over the last few years to get to this point. We knew, we hoped it was going to happen at some point. And I just think the timing is perfect.”

Roberts gave Buehler the news in a quick conversation at Camelback Ranch.

“It was just, ‘Hey, you’re throwing the first game,’” Buehler recalled.

Buehler said the news didn’t surprise him — he had seemed to be the likely option after being lined up ahead of Kershaw in the spring training rotation this week — and Roberts laughed while recalling the pitcher’s subdued reaction.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw warms up during a spring training workout on March 13 in Phoenix.
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw warms up for a spring training workout on March 13 in Phoenix.
(Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

“[He gave me] like a shoulder shrug and a thanks,” Roberts said. “But that’s about all I’m going to get from him, which is perfect.”

Buehler was similarly reserved while talking with reporters following Thursday’s announcement.

“I think we all dream of getting to the big leagues and I think for me, everything else besides that has been icing on the cake,” Buehler said. “It’s a cool opportunity and an honor and I’m looking forward to it.”

He did acknowledge there was added meaning that comes with succeeding Kershaw in the role, again echoing his admiration for the three-time Cy Young winner.

“Obviously his run of opening days here and being as good as he’s been is something that we’re all extremely envious of and look up to him in a lot of ways,” Buehler said. “It’s kind of cool to be the next guy that does it.”

Roberts hadn’t yet spoken to Kershaw about the decision as of Thursday morning, but was confident Kershaw would understand and be excited for his teammate.

With the changes the Dodgers have made in the offseason, manager Dave Roberts believes his team will win the World Series in 2022.

“He and Walker have a great relationship,” Roberts said. “Outside of Walker, I think Clayton will be the second-happiest guy to see Walker take the ball on opening day.”

Roberts said the rest of the season-opening rotation has yet to be decided, but confirmed Buehler would also pitch in the Dodgers’ home opener against the Cincinnati Reds on April 14, the sixth game on the schedule.

“You could have argued the last couple years, he could have been the opening day starter,” Roberts said. “But I think right now is the time for him to take the ball on opening day.”