Rays to stick with 'opener' format, using reliever to start games

The Tampa Bay Rays, who deviated from baseball tradition last season and regularly used a relief pitcher to begin games rather than a traditional starting pitcher, will keep with the format to begin the 2019 season.

Tampa posted 44-34 record in 2018 when utilizing bullpen early on

Ryne Stanek topped all Rays relievers with 29 starts when the team employed the “opener” format, using a relief pitcher to begin games rather than a traditional starting pitcher. (Adam Glanzman/Getty Images/File)

Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash will stick with using an "opener" next season.

The Rays deviated from baseball tradition last season, regularly using a relief pitcher to begin games rather than a traditional starting pitcher. Tampa Bay went 46-38 with usual starters and 44-34 when utilizing the bullpen.

"I think right now we're discussing internally whether we do it two times through the rotation or three times through the rotation," Cash said Monday at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. "But the nice thing is we've got all that information last year and we have a bunch of candidates that we can fill in as a traditional starter if need be. Yonny Chirinos, Yarbs [Ryan Yarbrough], Wilmer Font, Jalen Beeks."

Tampa Bay's innovation was copied by Oakland, which started reliever Liam Hendriks in the American League wild-card game against the New York Yankees, and Milwaukee. Brewers manager Craig Counsell used left-hander Wade Miley for just one batter in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, then brought in right-hander Brandon Woodruff.

While Cash let opposing managers know when he was using an opener and would have a quick hook, Counsell sprung his move as a surprise.

Initial plan was for limited 'openers'

"Yes, it can definitely make it difficult. But I personally don't see anything wrong with that," Cash said. "Each manager, each club, each organization, they're trying to get the best out of their roster. If they feel that's the best way to do it, the opposition, you've kind of got to deal with it.

"It's going to happen to us. We did it with other clubs, not that quickly, but playoff baseball you see different things."

Tampa Bay originally planned a limited use of "openers," but was forced to expand their use.

"I personally was not skeptical at all when we were discussing doing it one time through the rotation, potentially twice," Cash said. "Then with the injuries when it got to three and four times, I don't know if skeptical is the right word, it's more concerning — like how are we going to keep guys fresh? How are we going to manage workloads in a long series? But we learned a lot through it.

Now ultimately the players give you the buy-in. And we had success with it. They embraced it, enjoyed it and it's a big credit to them."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.