Moore: Why I can’t get on board with the Mariners’ use of an ‘opener’
For the sixth time this month, the Mariners will use an “opener” Monday night against the Royals at T-Mobile Park. Reliever Austin Adams is expected to be the “starter” or “opener” for an inning or two, and Tommy Milone will take over after that.
The Mariners are 2-3 when they use an opener, most recently losing to the A’s 11-2 on Saturday when Gerson Bautista pitched the first 2/3 innings ahead of usual starter Wade LeBlanc. In all three opener losses, the Mariners’ first pitcher gave up three runs in the first inning.
The people who like the idea of teams using an opener say that it prevents a starter from having to go through the best part of a team’s lineup three times. It can also foul up an opposing manager’s lineup by starting a right-hander and following it up with a left-hander or vice-versa.
The Mariners are also trying to mix it up with a hard-throwing right-handed reliever in the first inning since they have three lefty starters – Marco Gonzales, Milone and LeBlanc – who pitch more with precision than power.
I suppose it makes sense or MLB teams wouldn’t be following what Tampa Bay introduced last year, but I still think it’s Mickey Mouse. You’re putting pitchers in roles they’re not used to. A starter is not a reliever, and a reliever is not a starter. They have routines, and I don’t think this is the best way to get consistently good results from the opener or the follower (or whatever you call the next guy on the mound).
You might be thinking, a pitcher’s a pitcher, he should just do what the team tells him to do, simply take the ball and get three outs whether it’s the first inning, second inning or some other inning.
I admit to being a little conflicted. You could tell me: “What difference does it make, it’s a step-back season, might as well throw stuff at the wall and see if it sticks, and if it doesn’t, so what?”
I don’t have a good comeback for that. I also understand that GM Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais know more about baseball than I do. Plus they’ve got analytics guys who can back them up with stats that show the positive outcomes from using an opener over a starter. In that respect, I always deferred to former Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell instead of complaining about play calls because I’m fairly certain, after hours upon hours of studying his own team along with opponent tendencies, that he always called plays he thought would work.
The same holds true for Dipoto and Servais. But I’m sorry, I still think using an opener is stupid. It’s basically telling the other team: “Hey, guys, we don’t think we’re good enough to beat you with our regularly scheduled starter tonight, so we’re going to try to gain an advantage based on what our analytics department is telling us.”
The Mariners are overthinking things with this opener stuff. Now watch, almost guaranteed, since I think it’s a trash strategy, it will work beautifully Monday night. But come on, to compare it to football again, it’s like calling a trick play, a flea-flicker of sorts, trying to fool the other team instead of just beating them straight up with a conventional play.
I loved LeBlanc’s answer the other night when he was asked if he was getting used to being a reliever on the days when he’s scheduled to start.
“No,” he said.
Should we care how LeBlanc feels about it? Probably not, but I still do anyway. Think about it from a personal standpoint: If you’re LeBlanc, the Mariners are telling you that you’re not good enough to get through the opposing lineup three times even though you proved last year that you could actually do it. Same thing with Milone. And maybe they’re professional enough to say to themselves: “Hey, I guess it’s OK, we’re lucky to be in the major leagues even if they’re Mickey Mousing us.”
Plus there’s this – who in the world thinks any of the Mariners’ relievers are a better option than any of the five starters to to start a game? It’s such a revolving door in the bullpen that I’ve almost lost track of who they are anymore. Even in their defense, I would think they’d have a better chance to be successful if they came in when they’re used to going in, which is later in the game.
Servais says he still believes in using an opener, which means we’ll continue to see a cringe-worthy development that needs to be scrapped.