How the A's believe an opener will aid the pitching staff 

May 25th, 2023

SEATTLE -- In search of ways to better position a struggling starting rotation for a better chance at success, the A’s are shaking things up.

Instead of having make his scheduled start on Wednesday night against the Mariners at T-Mobile Park, the A’s opted to start reliever , with the rookie left-hander following him out of the bullpen.

The process known as the “opener strategy” did not exactly produce the desired result. Though Pruitt turned in a scoreless first inning on 17 pitches, Waldichuk took over in the second and was tagged for a five-run fourth in what ended up a 6-1 loss to Seattle. Still, the A’s plan to utilize an opener with more frequency going forward.

“We felt it was necessary to make this change and go through this process right now to see if we can help these young starters by giving them a different landing spot in the game,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “We’ve discussed it with the players. It’s not something that was just sprung on them. We’re going to definitely experiment with this right now.”

Kotsay noted that the A’s only have two wins recorded by a starting pitcher this season. No other team in MLB has fewer than six wins.

It’s not just that A’s starters are not picking up victories. This is about the current state of a young and inexperienced starting staff that entered the day 2-27 with an MLB-worst 7.28 ERA and the 10th fewest innings pitched (246) in the Majors so far this season.

For a couple of innings on Wednesday, it did look like the strategy was paying dividends.

Waldichuk began his first inning of work by facing Mariners No. 5 hitter Cal Raleigh in the second. Working out of a bases-loaded jam, he locked in by striking out Julio Rodríguez, Eugenio Suárez and Jarred Kelenic -- all swinging -- in the third. Raleigh’s leadoff single in the fourth, however, gave way to Seattle batting around the order, with Waldichuk’s night ending after a two-out, bases-loaded walk to Raleigh, his third walk of the inning.

“Those middle innings have been trouble for him,” Kotsay said of Waldichuk. “Tonight, even though he did have seven strikeouts, those walks just hurt him. We’ve seen that. The non-competitive pitches when he goes into the zone are really hurting him right now.”

Even though Waldichuk ran into similar issues that have crept up all season, he is a believer in the opener method as something that could help out the entire rotation.

“The way they explained it, I thought it was something that could be good,” Waldichuk said. “I’ve been getting hurt the third time through [the order] this season, so I was open to it. I can see the benefits, especially with that part of the order not being to see you that third time through. It definitely makes sense.”

The Rays revolutionized baseball with the implementation of the opener in 2018. Pruitt was a member of that team and witnessed the benefits, as Tampa Bay’s team ERA lowered considerably in the aftermath.

“It was a little different at first,” Pruitt recalled. “No one really had ever heard something like that. Then as it worked and the team saw a little more success, they bought into it. It’s something we’ve got to buy into as well.”

In what continues to be the worst start to a season in franchise history with a record of 10-41, the A’s are hopeful the opener strategy can help move them toward the right direction in what has been a miserable season to this point. Not only might it provide a boost for Oakland’s young starting rotation, but also for the club’s bullpen.

“When I was in Tampa, we had [relievers] Sergio Romo and [Ryne] Stanek opening,” Pruitt. “For Stanek, something kind of clicked for him at the time. He figured some stuff out. So, really, it can help everybody.”