SAN DIEGO -- The Rangers knew September would be the month to experiment and they have been doing just that.
Texas has utilized an "opener" in certain starts this month, electing to use a reliever as a starter before giving way to the primary pitcher. They saw their experiment pay off for the first time Friday night in a 4-0 victory over the Padres and they'll hope to continue that success by using Alex Claudio as an opener for Ariel Jurado in Saturday's matchup.
Connor Sadzeck opened Friday's game with a clean first inning to lead the way for Yohander Mendez, who pitched five scoreless innings. By using an opener, manager Jeff Banister is hopeful that his young pitchers can avoid the top-heavy parts of big league lineups and extend deeper into the setting of the game. It worked well for the team Friday night, and Banister said the club will continue to utilize openers ahead of some of the organization's younger arms for the rest of the season.
"We like the look of it in front of some of these young starters that are gaining some experience at the Major League level," Banister said. "We kind of push by the top of the order and limit the exposure to the top of the order."
Before Friday's victory, Texas was 0-2 in their opener experiment. They used rookie Jeffrey Springs as the opener in both of those games, both times before turning to Jurado.
Springs allowed just two hits over five innings combined in those two games, but after four scoreless innings in the first outing on Sept. 3, Jurado was tagged for five runs on just two-thirds of an inning in the second outing.
Friday's result was a much better outcome for Banister and the Rangers, and they'll continue to deploy that strategy with hopes to continue to develop both their young starters and young relievers. Still, Banister knows it's an adjustment for both parties and is willing to take the blame should the experiment go sour.
"Most of these guys are 'routine' guys," he said. "They love to have a routine, they love to know what they're going to do. The thing that we've done that I've told our coaches is to just get out in front of it and have those discussions before we do it. We lay down the ground work and let them know that we're setting them up for a situation that is going to be uncomfortable, but we'll take all the heat if things don't go well, and we'll give them all the credit when everything does go well."
Such was the case for Sadzeck, who made his first career start Friday.
"I approached it just as I would relieving," he said. "My job is to get us to the next inning, whether it was coming in the middle of an inning and getting us to the sixth or seventh or this. That's all I thought about was getting us to the second there."
That's another bonus of the opener experiment, Banister quipped. The team is looking for potential early candidates for the rotation in 2019, and that could also include relievers.
"There's two parts to it," he said. "There's the reliever you think might be a starter and then you're having some of these young guys and continuing to stretch them out and put them in a spot of success.
"You may have a reliever that you think might be a starter," Banister added. "Getting him out and letting him start the game and get the feeling of it -- whether it's going one inning, two. We've let Springs go three innings and he's done a fabulous job of it."
Springs has posted a 1.82 ERA in 13 appearances since making his debut on July 31. He started his professional career as a starter, but he made the transition to a reliever in the Minor Leagues. However, given his recent success and durability in the opener role, the Rangers may look at him as possible starter come next season.
Springs family OK in North Carolina
As Tropical Storm Florence is expected to bring torrential rain and catastrophic flooding to the East Coast this weekend, Springs is keeping an open line to his family near Charlotte, North Carolina.
"Everybody back home is good so far," Springs said. "It's supposed to hit [Charlotte] pretty bad today and tomorrow."
Springs was born in Belmont, North Carolina, and attended South Point High School, also in Belmont. The town is about 15 miles west of Charlotte and the city is expecting high rains, wind and flooding.
"You definitely feel for it," he said. "You're definitely thinking about and praying for. My family's good as of right now fortunately, but all of those people you definitely feel for and think about."
Chris Martin is battling an upper-respiratory sickness and will be unavailable for Saturday's game. He is day-to-day.