With the Los Angeles Dodgers traveling to Tropicana Field to take on the Tampa Bay Rays for a quick two-game series this week, it gives them their first look at the ‘opener’ strategy this season.
The strategy is one that the Rays pioneered last season and is becoming more popular among other teams as well.
Right-hander Hunter Wood got the start on the mound for Tampa Bay in Tuesday’s series opener and pitched two innings before giving way to left-hander Jalen Beeks, who went 4.2 innings in relief.
The Dodgers countered the strategy by using Matt Beaty as their leadoff hitter. He was then pinch-hit for by David Freese in the third.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts discussed the strategy and credited his team for being flexible to counteract it, as seen on SportsNet LA:
“I think for most clubs it’s a little bit more difficult. It calls for our guys to be a little bit more flexible as far as where they hit in the order. But it is nice when you have guys who are left and right-handed and fare well against both. So that’s a luxury that we have.”
Los Angeles actually used an opener once in 2018 when reliever Scott Alexander got a start and gave way to Dennis Santana, who was making his Major League debut.
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who used to be the general manager of the Rays, believes it is an effective strategy for teams like the Rays that may not be able to afford five true starters:
“I think it’s something that each market, each situation has its own unique challenges and I think the fact is that they’re a lower-revenue team and for them to afford five good starting pitchers is difficult. So I just know kind of thinking through it yesterday and today and talking to [Dave Roberts] and our coaches, it definitely presents some challenges and some things to think about in terms of how to situate your lineup and how you deploy your bench. It’s definitely more challenging.”
Luckily for the Dodgers, they have one of the best starting rotations in baseball and a ton of depth behind them so they likely won’t need to use an opener this season.
Getting to face the Rays in their series though is a good experience for them in case they see other teams using openers down the road. The Milwaukee Brewers attempted to do it against them in last year’s National League Championship Series.