Rays buck convention with unique 'pen strategy

Trend of relievers starting games may continue

May 20th, 2018

ANAHEIM -- Turning convention on its ear is making Rays manager Kevin Cash more popular than ever, as the crowd grows during his pregame media scrum.

Cash answered questions Sunday, mostly about his strategy to have relievers open games -- like on Saturday, when he used in the first inning. As Cash was doing so, Rays pitcher Chris Archer emerged into the dugout to see the crowd gathered around his manager.

"Popular today, Cash …" Archer said as he made his way to the field to stretch before Sunday's game against the Angels.

"Yeah, tell me about it," Cash said.

The Rays used Romo as their starter for the second consecutive day on Sunday. After the right-hander went one inning and struck out the side Saturday in the Rays' 5-3 victory over the Angels, Romo again opened the game Sunday with three strikeouts, and he ended up going 1 1/3 innings (with two walks) in a game the Rays would lose, 5-2, at the hands of a dominant and the Angels.

Moving forward, the Rays do not plan on using their unique pitching setup all of the time, but they could use it for more right-handed-heavy lineups like the Angels have. Lefty-heavy lineups could also inspire the plan. Cash admitted that it makes less sense against a more balanced lineup -- like the one the Indians possess, for example.

Without bring prompted, Cash did mention the right-handed top of the order of the Orioles. Matchups against the O's, like the one next weekend at home, could mark the return of his bullpen "opener."

"I don't know if it's that innovative or not, but I'm glad it worked out [Saturday]," Cash said. "I'm intrigued to see how it's going to continue to work, because I'm confident we're going to do it. It might not just be Sergio. It might be [left-hander] Jonny Venters. It depends.

"It gives us the flexibility to be able to match up with the opposing lineup a little better when we can insert a guy in there to get three to six outs."

The crux of the plan, according to Cash, is to get deeper into games while limiting the times a pitcher has to go through a lineup three times.

Cash said he talked to team president of baseball operations Matt Silverman to discuss how Saturday's game turned out. The summary of Silverman's response: What took you so long?

"'Do you want my snarky answer? I tried to get you to do this three years ago,'" Silverman said, according to Cash. "He's happy."

Have there been any negative reactions thus far?

"I've been called an idiot, but that has happened before," Cash joked.

Romo made a little bit of history with his weekend outings, his 589th and 560th career appearances. According to STATS, only three players had more career relief appearances before their first start -- Troy Percival (638), Todd Jones (632) and Chuck McElroy (603). In the past 40 years, there have been four instances in which a pitcher has started on consecutive days. The most recent occurrence happened in 2012. That season, Zack Greinke and C.J. Wilson each started two games in a row.

Greinke was a member of the Brewers when he started consecutive games. He was ejected on July 7, 2012, after throwing just four pitches against the Astros. He returned the next night and allowed three runs in three innings.

Greinke also started the following Brewers game as well. It came against the Pirates after the 2012 All-Star Break. He became the first pitcher to start three consecutive games in a season since Red Faber in 1917.

Wilson was the initial starter for the Angels against the Rangers on May 11, 2012. His start was cut short by a two-hour rain delay. Wilson only faced five batters before departing after the delay. He took the mound the following game and threw 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits.

Prior to 2012, former Rangers pitcher Aaron Myette (2002) and A's pitcher Steve McCatty (1980) each performed back-to-back starts.

Myette faced a similar fate as Greinke. He was ejected after two pitches against the Orioles on Sept. 3, 2002, and he came back the next game. McCatty was the only pitcher of the group to throw at least an inning and then start the next day.