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Cole, Verlander push back on 'opener' concept

February 15, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- As more teams begin to follow the lead of the Tampa Bay Rays and tinker with having a reliever -- the opener -- take the ball to start games, the forward-thinking Astros are holding steadfast to the belief you ride your starters as long as

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- As more teams begin to follow the lead of the Tampa Bay Rays and tinker with having a reliever -- the opener -- take the ball to start games, the forward-thinking Astros are holding steadfast to the belief you ride your starters as long as you can.
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Of course, it helps when you have a rotation anchored by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, who were two of the 13 pitchers in the big leagues last year who pitched at least 200 innings. Another was former Astros teammate Dallas Keuchel, who remains a free agent.
There's no doubt having horses in the rotation you can ride for 33 starts and 200 innings generally eliminates the need for an "opener," and Cole and Verlander hope it stays that way.
"There's a human element here you start to lose when you start rattling off the best mathematical equation to get the out," Cole said. "I certainly wouldn't pay for a ticket to watch a math equation. I kind of want to go watch a human interaction, a human competition. There are guys that are really good at this and have been doing this for a long time. I think they should be left alone."
Earlier this week, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he received a text from All-Star pitcher Madison Bumgarner that said the veteran lefty would walk "right out of the ballpark" if the team used an opener in one of his games. The text came after Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said the team might use an opener in 2019.
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"I would probably handle it with just as much passion, but I don't know if I would just walk out," Cole said. "I would maybe do it a little bit differently. Madison is going to put his country boots on and go chop a tree down or something afterwards. I don't know. I'm not Madison. I would not be OK with it, no."
And neither would Verlander, who has 24 complete games and 11 seasons of at least 200 innings in his career, including 214 last year en route to finishing second for the American League Cy Young Award behind Blake Snell of the Rays. Verlander says teams that rely on openers will feel the repercussions in the playoffs.

The Rays, who won 90 games last year but fell short of the playoffs, saw their relievers throw 824 1/3 innings in '18, which was 183 more than any other team.
"You can really burn guys over the course of the season, and you get to the playoffs and you have a handful of guys in your bullpen you really want to go to," Verlander said. "You've been going to them all year and you really overuse them in the playoffs because that style of play. That's how you get beat."
Rays manager Kevin Cash was a coach at the All-Star Game last year and took some good-natured razzing from Cole about the openers.
"He said, 'You know Gerrit, if we had starters like you guys, we wouldn't be running those guys out there that way,'" Cole said. "I guess I believe him. I take him for his word. I would caution against doing it and taking that opportunity away from guys who have made a living starting the game and carrying it for six or seven innings."
Astros manager AJ Hinch said he will use this pitching staff to its best abilities, which means giving the starter the ball and hoping he doesn't have to talk to him until the sixth or seventh inning.
"When you have the type of starters that we have, we're not going to artificially govern our starters," he said. "If we do, then we will have to make a different philosophical adjustment. You play your players to the point of what your personnel is. That says something, not so much about a philosophy or about a belief, but just about using your players to get the most out of them."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.