As the Rays experiment with and adjust their pitching strategy -- beginning the game with high-leverage relievers and deploying innings-eating starters later -- so, too, will the competition. The Angels got an early glimpse of combatting the unorthodox method over the weekend, facing reliever Sergio Romo to start on Saturday and Sunday, and at least one wasn't thrilled with the tactic.
"It's weird," Angels third baseman Zack Cozart said in a recent interview with The Athletic. "I hope baseball doesn't go in that direction to where it's going to be more like Spring Training, having a pitcher go an inning or two and then change it out.
"I don't think that's good for baseball, in my opinion. It's definitely weird, not knowing who you're going to face in your first couple of at-bats. … Usually, you have a starter and you think you're going to have three at-bats probably. So you're going to use the first at-bat and you want to have success, see what he has if you haven't faced him before, stuff like that. When you're going Spring Training style, it's definitely a different ballgame. It's Spring Training; that's the best way I could describe it. I hope it doesn't go in that direction."
Two games is a wildly minute sample, but the Rays' strategy proved effective. Romo tossed 2 1/3 scoreless frames and struck out six of the nine batters he faced, including Cozart, Michael Trout and Justin Upton on 18 pitches during the first inning on Saturday, an eventual 5-3 win for the Rays.
In the second inning on Sunday, an eventual 5-2 Angels win, Cozart drew one of two walks issued by Romo, as the right-hander worked through 28 pitches before departing. However, Cozart believed that he was squaring up to face Matt Andriese, a starter, which thwarted his pre-at-bat preparation, he said.
Utilizing effective relievers against the top of the opposing lineup has been explored more as bullpens have become more of a premium, though the strategy hadn't truly manifested within games until last weekend. The last pitcher to start on back-to-back days was Zack Greinke for the Brewers in 2012, though that was due to Greinke being ejected without recording an out in his first outing. He came back to toss three innings the following day.
The Rays, who have long been analtically minded, also entered the year with limited rotational depth, and they announced early in Spring Training that they were going to experiment with a four-man rotation and relegate the fifth day for the bullpen, manipulating off-days when they could. However, beginning games with a reliever on the mound is an entirely new topic -- and it's drawing significant attention.