The Tampa Bay Rays, the inventors of employing an “opener’’ rather than a traditional starter, used that strategy 43 times (27%) and had a 26-17 record in those games. They also used a modified version to stifle Houston in Game 4 of ALDS, before being eliminated by the Astros’ phenomenal Gerrit Cole in Game 5.
The Twins tried some of that late in the 2018 season, then hired new manager Rocco Baldelli, increasing the Rays’ influence with the organization. Yet, they wound up using a Rays-style opener only twice — both times Randy Dobnak in early September.
The Twins rode Jake Odorizzi, Jose Berrios, Michael Pineda, Kyle Gibson and Martin Perez for five months, and then in September, Pineda was suspended and Gibson and Perez became ineffective, and the rotation became chaos.
The Twins now have one starter for 2020: Berrios. Presumably, they will get Odorizzi re-signed as a free agent. There’s no starter ready in the organization.
The guess here is the Twins will get two veteran starters, through trade and/or free agency, and get creative with the fifth. I asked baseball CEO Derek Falvey at a media session last week, “What’s next in starting pitching?” and then promptly offered my suggestion:
“Two pitchers — say, Dobnak [RH] and Devin Smeltzer [LH], share the fifth spot in the rotation. You set it up by whether the opponent is favorable for a righthander or lefthander. And then two or three days later, both are available on what would be the bullpen session day for a traditional starter.’’
Imagine my surprise when Falvey said: “Pairing. Yes, that’s actually been discussed in the game.’’
The indication from Falvey was it might be more of a situation that both would pitch on the fifth day and which one started was flexible. And both then could be available for a couple of relief innings before the next “pairing” game.
One factor making this strategy viable is the move to a 26-player roster in 2020. That makes it basically a given that teams will have 13 pitchers from Opening Day through Aug. 31.
So, move over “opener,” here comes the “pairing.” Maybe.
Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and including his name in the subject line.
More on the Twins’ pitching:
• Brusdar Graterol made nine starts at Class AA Pensacola in 2019 and had to rest a bad shoulder. Not a regular Twins starter in 2020.
• Zack Wheeler, turning 30, a five-year, $110 million deal, with an out after three? The Mets righthander is the Twins’ best shot to go big.
• We scoffed when Twins signed Anibal Sanchez in spring training 2018. Now we’re mad they signed Lance Lynn and didn’t keep him.