By Ted Gay – @TedG63
Great discoveries can often occur in the most ordinary places. The Wright Brothers took first flight in Kitty Hawk North Carolina, and Darwin developed his origin of the species on the Galapagos Islands. Perhaps, last weekend, in baseball’s furthest outpost, Tampa Bay Florida, the next game-changing strategy was implemented by future footnote, Kevin Cash.
The discovery had its seeds in last year’s postseason when managers were loathing to let their pitchers face a lineup for the third time. This caused starters to become frustrated when they were pulled before they pitched five innings and had qualified for a win, even though they were throwing well. In the future, the acts of aggression over this situation will be known as “pulling a Rich Hill.”
Once managers showed their reluctance to give hitters a third look at their pitchers, inquisitive minds began to wonder that if managers only wanted batters to get two looks at their starters, wouldn’t it be better to have a reliever start the game and bring in a starter in the second or third inning so they could pitch deeper into games?
This weekend Kevin Cash, who has regularly used relievers as starters, upped the ante by using fireballer Sergio Romo (who some fans recognized as the Giants’ closer during two World Series wins, in the same manner, that people remembered that Wags on Billions was Gale Boetticher, the chemist Gus Fring tried to replace Walter White with on Breaking Bad), started two consecutive games, pitching less than an inning and two thirds in each, to get the Rays starters past the meat of the opposing team’s order, and allowing the starter to begin the game dueling with the lower, less effective part of the order, where he can get his command without worrying that a mistake will turn into a run.
This move was met with derision by baseball purists but so did the exaggerated infield shifts when they were first concocted. Now they are an accepted, and irritating, part of the game. Closers was once a term only used to refer to front office guys who put the finishing language on player’s contracts. We are entering an age when openers are going to be more than just what you need to access a bottle of Finest Kind IPA.
I believe, in a couple of years, the age of the Opener will be upon us. The question is would this strategy work for today’s Red Sox. As with the shifts, the answer is sometimes.
If you have a pitcher the caliber of Chris Sale you want him out there for every batter he can face, the same is true of David Price at the top of his game, and if he is at the bottom of his game the only way to learn that is to start him. Rick Porcello has had first-inning issues during his time in Boston, but I would start him too. Eduardo Rodriguez has me considering using an opener for him but I would worry that it would stunt his growth as a pitcher.
That brings us to Drew Pomeranz, a pitcher who has trouble early in games and rarely lasts into the fifth. Could starting Hector Velasquez, who might make a career out of being a two-inning opener, or Joe Kelly, then handing the ball to Pomeranz in the third, allowing him to potentially only face the top of the order twice in a start while stretching him out to the eighth inning increase the chances of the Sox winning Pomeranz’s starts? Or would doing the same work if Pomeranz finally cedes way to Steven Wright? I think it could be worth the gamble.
The days of the opener are upon us. The Red Sox will have to choose between adapting to it or ignoring it.
But when change comes to a sport, the wisest course is to adapt early unless you end up behind the curve and trailing in the race.
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