Orioles considering using 'opener' strategy

February 12th, 2019

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Since the Rays debuted "the opener" last May, no fewer than eight teams have helped transform the concept from a fad into a mini-movement. Consider the Orioles a candidate to dive in next.

O's general manager and executive vice president Mike Elias said team officials will "bandy around" the idea of using the strategy this season, and be open to implementing it if they feel it can benefit their rebuilding club.

"The opener strategy doesn't make sense for every team, every rotation or every bullpen," Elias said. "But I can see a scenario or two this year where we might use it this year."

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The reason, Elias said, stems from what he called the "personnel based" nature of the strategy. Of the 26 pitchers who reported to Orioles camp Tuesday -- the first mandatory day for pitchers and catchers -- as few as six are guaranteed jobs. The rest of the pitching staff remains in flux, with two rotation jobs open behind , and and a slew of candidates set to battle this spring for bullpen roles. All the uncertainty has prompted Elias to brainstorm creative ways to improve a unit that pitched to an MLB-worst 5.18 team ERA last season.

Elias said he's at least considering the possibility of using an opener, a reliever who starts the game and is followed by a more traditional starter after one inning, to plug some of those holes this summer.

"It's something we'll talk about," Elias said. "But it's not a decision that needs to be made at the start of Spring Training."

Spring Training launches new era for Orioles | Hyde coming in prepared

Like most inventions, the Rays created "the opener" mostly out of necessity, as a way to prop up their injury-ravished rotation. Rebuilding clubs like the Rangers and Twins eventually followed suit, and others, like the Pirates and Giants, have expressed interest in trying it. But the trend wasn't exclusive to out-of-contention clubs. The A's and Brewers both used relievers to start postseason games, and given the consistency with which starter workloads have continued to decrease this decade, more contending teams figure to dabble in 2019.

For the Orioles, doing so would mark a tangible break from the traditional philosophies the franchise largely adhered to during the Dan Duquette/Buck Showalter era. It would also count as uncharted territory for Elias and new O's manager Brandon Hyde, neither of whom used openers during their times with the Astros and Cubs. Chicago and Houston, however, sported two of baseball's most stable and productive starting rotations.

Trumbo progressing 

One of the several position players to report early to camp, reported no issues after testing his surgically repaired right knee with a round of batting practice. Trumbo has been participating in baseball activities for more than a month and remains optimistic that he can be ready for Opening Day. He still needs to sprint on the knee without pain before being cleared to participate in games, which don't begin until Feb. 23.

Slimmed down 

Right-hander reported to camp 25 pounds lighter with hopes that improved stamina could help him land a spot on the Opening Day roster. The O's No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline, Ortiz was acquired from the Brewers last summer in the deal that sent to Milwaukee, and made one start for the O's before a hamstring injury covering first base cut his 2018 season short. Ortiz said adjusting his diet allowed him to slim from 272 pounds to his current weight of 247 pounds. The 23-year-old could be in the mix for a back-end rotation spot with a strong spring.

Worth noting

• The Orioles officially announced the signing of 33-year-old outfielder , originally reported on Monday, to a Minor League deal. The former stolen-base champion played parts of the past two seasons with the Angels, where he hit .233 with a .654 OPS across 88 games.

• All the new faces in Orioles camp mean new uniform numbers. Here's the rundown in that department, if you're into that sort of thing:

(No. 1), SS

Drew Jackson (No. 6), INF

(No. 14), 3B

(No. 35), SS

(No. 36), P

(No. 40), C

(No. 52), P

(No. 53), P

(No. 55), P

(No. 64), P

(No. 68), INF

(No. 70), P

(No. 72), C

(No. 73), P

(No. 75), C

Mike Yastrzemski (No. 75), OF

(No. 76), 3B

Dean Kremer (No. 77), P

Ryan McKenna (No. 78), OF

Zach Pop (No. 79), P

Yusniel Diaz (No. 80), OF