Rays to use opener on path to 27 outs

Tampa Bay to stick with now-popular pitching strategy, work with three-man rotation

March 24th, 2019

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Rays manager Kevin Cash made it pretty clear early on that the Rays were going to use the opener strategy moving forward.

“Oh, we’re going to do it,” Cash said during the Winter Meetings in December. “I’m very confident that we’re going to be doing it definitely twice and potentially three times through the rotation to start the season.”

After winning 90 games in 2018 with the help of the strategy, Cash and the Rays remain fully committed to using an opener whenever the club feels it gives them the best chance to win. Coming into the season, the Rays will have a three-man rotation with Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow, but the other two starts in the rotation will be given to a reliever.

Part of the difficulty of playing the Rays is heading into a series not knowing what the team’s pitching plans will be on a daily basis. There’s a chance that Tampa Bay goes into a series with a more traditional rotation of Snell, Morton and Glasnow, but there are also going to be instances when the Rays won’t know who’s starting the next game until late night before the game.

“It’s something that definitely doesn’t help when you can’t be like ‘OK, this is who they have pitching today,’” Rays pitcher said. “I think there’s something to be said about that, but I don’t know exactly what that would be.”

New catcher Mike Zunino, who came over in a trade from Seattle in November, said he has learned a lot about the strategy over the last six weeks of Spring Training. He has come away impressed with the amount of research and thought that goes behind every move.

“You can’t just throw out any reliever and follow him by any other guy, because it’s not a bullpen day, and that’s what people don’t realize,” Zunino said. “We’re just throwing a guy out there to face the other team’s best guys and we like those matchups, and then we follow that with essentially our other starters. It’s a cool dynamic and I was surprised how much is really into it and behind the scenes of it.”

Some of the likely options to open games include Stanek, , and , but that doesn’t limit their role. Stanek and Castillo will also be looked at as late-inning guys, with the potential of closing out games. The “bulk guy” options, which has been the name designated to the pitcher used after the opener would include Yonny Chirinos, Ryan Yarbrough, Jalen Beeks and possibly Wilmer Font.

In order for the opener to work, the Rays will rely on health from their top pitchers and quality outings out of Snell, Morton and Glasnow. The Rays don’t want to put any added pressure on the three starters, but in order for the strategy to work in the other two days rely quite a bit on the effectiveness of the three traditional starters. The versatility of what the Rays can do on the pitching side will be a key this season.

“There’s no break,” Zunino said. “It’s like if you get those three starters and then all of a sudden you have to deal with Stanek for possible two innings and then who knows who’s behind him. It sets the tone and it sets guys up to have success.”

The Rays will have many ways of getting to 27 outs. And they’re confident with that.