HOUSTON – The Twins on Tuesday will send righthander Trevor May to the mound for one or two innings before the primary pitcher — using the Twins’ term — takes over and pitches into the final innings. At least that is the plan.
May wasn’t announced until after the game, as manager Paul Molitor waited to see how Monday’s game vs. Houston played out. The Twins public relations staff members notified their counterparts with Houston of the decision.
And the Twins don’t see any reason why they should announce who will follow May — although, in this case, it’s Kohl Stewart’s day to pitch. Why should a team reveal its first two pitchers?
But as baseball heads into the era of the “opener,” what’s in place to stop shenanigans when it comes to letting opponents know who is the opener? The Twins, including Tuesday, might use an opener in three of their next four games.
“Giving your opposing team your starting pitcher has been part of the game for a long time,” Molitor said. “Now with this new concept it kind of put things in flux in terms of how things are communicated and how people are going to respond to it.”
This new concept threatens to blur the line between sportsmanship and gamesmanship. And that is where the league might have to grab the wheel.
“You can’t expect guys who are trying to get a competitive advantage to create their own rules,” said former Twins pitcher LaTroy Hawkins, who has been working for Fox Sports North as an analyst during the team’s six-game Texas swing. “You’re already telling the team who is going to be the opener.
“I’m one of those guys who feel you shouldn’t have to tell them who’s pitching anyway. If you’re looking for an advantage, why tell them who’s pitching?”
The Twins, Rays, Athletics, Rangers and Dodgers have used “openers” and followed them with their primary pitcher for that game. As more clubs look into moving into this unregulated land — September could be the proving ground for such a strategy — there could be times when teams hide the identity of their “opener” until the last minute. Or the opponent could make a lineup change after the opener is identified.
Teams will always look for advantages, and the era of the opener creates new possibilities.
“We talked earlier about how if there is going to have to be some sort of protocol put into place into how this information is exchanged and who has the right to change things right up to game time if they think it is necessary to give themselves a better chance,” Molitor said. “I like the avenue of respect more than anything, but obviously there are going to be times when you don’t have all the answers.”
Molitor was asked if he would have to craft more than one lineup before a game, based on who might start … err, open. Some have joked that a team could bat its top hitters in the middle or the bottom of the order to thwart the opener, but that threatens to reduce the potential plate appearances of the best hitters in a game.
See all the questions that arise because of this?
“It’s one of those things where it’s hard for me to imagine not putting your best hitters atop the lineup,” Molitor said. “I think some teams are very set whether it’s left or right and some teams have more flexibility. It might be the same hitters but in different orders. All those things you might look at. It’s just going to have to be about creating your best lineup to give you the best chance on that day, with only limited information on how teams use their pitchers.”