Inbox: Would 'opener' solve first-inning woes?

Beat reporter Thomas Harding answers fans' questions

August 21st, 2018
Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black watches from the dugout during the Rockies' 5-3 win over Atlanta Braves in a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)John Bazemore/AP

DENVER -- Before answering the first question in this Edward Jones Rockies Beat Reporter's Inbox, let's lay out a problem that isn't really a problem:
• On Sunday, in a 4-2 victory at Atlanta that kept the Rockies a half-game out of first in the National League West and put them in a three-way tie atop the NL Wild Card standings, righty gave up a first-inning run.
• On Friday, lefty gave up a first-inning run at Atlanta, then threw five more scoreless innings to lower his season ERA to 2.96. He's on pace for second-lowest starter ERA in Rockies history.
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• In six starts since returning from a brief option to Triple-A Albuquerque, righty has posted a 2.55 ERA, a .182 batting average against and fanned 38 against just nine walks. Oh, yeah -- he gave up a first-inning run in two of those six starts.
On to the question:

The Rays have been using relievers such as , who has 100 career saves,a as their "opener," meaning he pitches the first inning, then turns the game over to a multi-inning pitcher. The plan has had some success.
Originally, Tampa Bay employed the strategy against the Angels, in part because the Rays were short on starters and the Halos had a heavily right-handed lineup.
So, the problem is that the Rockies have an undesirable 7.62 first-inning ERA -- by far highest in the Majors. If Colorado finishes with that figure, it would be the second highest in history, better only than the 2000 Rangers (7.89). The highest first-inning ERA for a team that qualified for the postseason was the 1999 Indians (6.67).
With that issue, and the Rays having some success with an "opener," could it also be a solution for the Rockies?
I see a few issues with this.
• With an NL team, in many close games, the pitcher's spot in the order forces offensive changes. Why eliminate one reliever, not knowing if you're going to need him later?
• Tampa Bay went into the season not sure if it had a full rotation, and after some non-waiver Trade Deadline deals, it is still at that point. The "opener" strategy maximizes the Rays' personnel. That's not the Rockies' problem. There is enough starting depth that righty is looking for his next innings out of the bullpen.
• In going 30-16 -- with every game against teams above .500 -- since June 26, the Rockies' starter ERA of 3.40 ranks second in the NL to the Dodgers' 2.86. And this is despite the first-inning issues that have continued throughout this successful stretch.
So it's a problem, but is it worth an extreme correction?
Throughout the Majors, the most runs are scored in the first inning, and the combined 4.70 ERA of the 30 teams is highest of any inning.
Also, check out these ERAs -- 4.00, 3.75 and 4.13. Those sound like back-of-the-rotation starters for most teams, but they're actually the respective first-inning numbers for Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan.
Yes, Rockies starters need to improve in the first. But the issue is pitchers needing more time than they'd like to figure exactly which pitches are going to be effective for them on a particular day. So if a starter has this problem, is it really going to be any better if he enters in the second inning?

I don't see anything happening in that regard, although the Rockies will be alert in case a situation falls into their laps. It was a problem not long ago, but as was the case last year, Jake McGee is finding his form toward the end of the season (.182 batting average, two runs against in his past six appearances). He'll be the key lefty late.
In his two games since returning from the disabled list, Chris Rusin had a solid appearance at Houston and a difficult one at Atlanta, although in the latter, there was some hard luck and a lopsided score.
Mike Dunn, with his season marred by an upper-back strain and an AC joint inflammation, should rejoin the Rockies in September after a rehab assignment at Triple-A Albuquerque that was scheduled to start Tuesday.
The difference bettheween the Rockies and big-market teams is that Colorado can't declare an investment a failure early or spend to cover up for such a mistake. So the onus is on McGee (three years, $27 million) and Dunn (three years, $19 million) to make their deals pay off for the team.

This, I can't answer, but I will say this: They'd best be careful.
In September 2014, the Cubs were clearing their 40-man roster for anticipated offseason moves and waived Rusin, who turned out to be an important cog in Colorado making the postseason last year. The Rockies are hoping the roster crunch that allowed the Dodgers to claim lefty reliever from them earlier this season doesn't end up haunting them.