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Pitcher Kyle Gibson takes the ball first as Orioles look to build on last year's surge

BALTIMORE - The slate has been refreshed. There is optimism in every clubhouse.

Major League Baseball opening day is like a holiday for baseball fans. It symbolizes the sights of warmer weather, freshly cut grass and America's Pastime.

For the Baltimore Orioles, it has been several years since there has been this much excitement entering a season.

That's mostly because of the young talent ready to step on the field in 2023.

The Orioles open their new season Thursday at Boston's Fenway Park, against the Red Sox. First pitch is scheduled for 2:10 p.m.

And after last year's 30+-game improvement, the players and fans have playoff dreams for the first time since 2016. The Orioles won 83 games last season and were in the playoff hunt until late September.

"I believe our rebuild is behind us and we've got an incredible chance now to be a very, very competitive team for years," General Manager Mike Elias said before spring training. "I think that the front office and the manager, when we talk to the media, we feed those expectations."

The Orioles are handing the opening day ball to pitcher Kyle Gibson, who hopes this start is better than his only other opening day start.

In 2021, Gibson, a starter for the Texas Rangers, allowed five earned runs on four base hits, and got just one out. His ERA after that game was 135.00.

"In one start, I think I may have had the biggest drop in ERA," Gibson said. "We will see if we can avoid that."

Gibson, who signed with the Orioles in the offseason, said his intention coming in wasn't to be an ace, but just pitch effectively, especially until starter John Means returns to the rotation.

However, Gibson said last week he is honored to get the team's first start of the year.

"Hopefully I can get some of the extra nerves out but I have a little bit of anxiety and nerves every start," Gibson said. "You figure out how to use that adrenaline in the right way."

Last season, Gibson owned a 10-8 record with a 5.05 ERA.

In 14 innings in spring training, he hasn't allowed a walk.

"He is a great leader in our clubhouse and he is a good starting pitcher as well. It's been fun to have him," Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said.

In the batting order, where the Orioles are expected to soar, second-year catcher Adley Rutschman will bat second, and former top prospect Gunnar Henderson will hit fifth.

The Orioles will start with Cedric Mullins in center field; Rutschman at catcher; Anthony Santander at left field; Ryan Mountcastle at first base; Henderson at designated hitter; Ramon Urias at third base; Austin Hays at right field; Adam Frazier at second base; and Jorge Mateo at shortstop.

"To see the energy come back is really refreshing and really cool. I think it makes everyone excited to get going," said Rutschman, who finished second in last season's American League Rookie of the Year voting.

Gibson,  Dean Kremer and Cole Irvin will be the Orioles top three pitchers to start the year.

Following a three-game trip to Boston, the Orioles then head to Texas for three before returning home to play the New York Yankees on April 6.

"For me, it's just a chance to start a series off," Gibson said. "That first game of every series is really important. That first guy really sets the tone on how the bullpen is used the next three games. For me, it's about being a veteran leader and set the tone for the first series of the year."

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