Red Sox name Corey Kluber as their 2023 Opening Day starter

Miami Marlins v Boston Red Sox
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Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora played coy when questioned about his Opening Day starter last weekend, revealing only that he had already decided it wouldn't be Chris Sale. That left only one logical option - Corey Kluber.

As it turns out, Cora had already come to this conclusion back in January, which lines up with the timeline of when the manager discussed how the rotation will line up with Sale. Cora tends to hold his cards close to the vest until he's ready to reveal information on his terms. That time came on Wednesday when he informed reporters that Kluber will get the nod on Opening Day, according to Alex Speier of The Boston Globe.

Kluber is no stranger to headlining a rotation. This will be the sixth Opening Day start of his career. The previous five came during his nine-year tenure in Cleveland where he emerged as one of the game's top starters, earning three All-Star appearances and a pair of Cy Young awards.

His status as an ace feels like a lifetime ago though. Kluber's last dominant season came in 2018 when he was a 20-game winner with a 2.89 ERA and he finished third on the Cy Young ballot. Kluber logged only 106 2/3 innings over the next three seasons due to a series of arm, abdomen and shoulder injuries.

Kluber bounced back with a healthy season in 2022 by making 31 starts for the Tampa Bay Rays. He went a mediocre 10-10 with a 4.34 ERA and saw his strikeout rate dip to a career-low 7.6 K/9.

The 36-year-old isn't as dominant as he once was. A four-seam fastball that once hovered in the 92-93 mph range now sits in the 88-89 mph range, per Baseball Savant. However, the savvy veteran can still get by as a crafty pitcher. He doesn't beat himself by allowing free passes, leading the league with a 1.2 BB/9 last season. He's no longer an overpowering pitcher but Kluber finished in the 96th percentile in chase rate last year by fooling opposing hitters with his secondary pitches, especially a lethal changeup that generated a 33.8 Whiff%.

Kluber does a decent job of avoiding hard contact, an essential skill if his strikeout rate doesn't return to form. Rule changes banning the shift are a bit of a concern for a starter who pitches to contact more often at this stage of his career but Kluber should benefit from an improved infield defense with Kiké Hernández at shortstop.

The Red Sox turned to Nathan Eovaldi as their Opening Day starter in each of the last three seasons but with the right-hander signing with the Texas Rangers in free agency, Cora needed to find another option to lead his rotation.

So, why not Sale, the seven-time All-Star with the lucrative contract who served as Boston's Opening Day starter in 2018 and 2019?

Tommy John surgery wiped out Sale's entire 2020 season and most of the following one. He barely saw the mound last year due to three separate injuries. An absurd stretch of tough injury luck has limited Sale to 48 1/3 innings over the last three years.

Sale is on track to be in the rotation to begin this season but Cora doesn't want to put the pressure of Opening Day on him as the lefty aims for a bounce-back campaign. Sale has followed Kluber in the rotation for each of his starts this spring, which hinted that Kluber would get the nod against the Baltimore Orioles on March 30. The Red Sox have an off day following Thursday's opener, lining up Sale to start the second game of the season on Saturday, April 1 if he doesn't stumble through any setbacks in spring training.

Health is a significant question lingering over the Red Sox pitching staff. They are already dealing with injuries to multiple starters who aren't expected to be ready to begin the season. None of them are expected to be long-term issues though, so the Red Sox could conceivably have their staff at full strength before the end of April.

It remains to be seen what the full order of the rotation will look like if everyone is healthy but one thing we can count on is that Kluber will be the one to lead this revamped staff.