2 Gi­ants starters don’t like opener

Bum­gar­ner has a most em­phatic no, Bochy says

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - SPORTING GREEN - By John Shea

The Gi­ants are open to us­ing an opener. That’s a sen­tence that wouldn’t have been writ­ten un­der pre­vi­ous man­age­ment.

Farhan Zaidi, the new pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions who has in­no­va­tive ideas about run­ning a base­ball team, re­it­er­ated over the week­end the Gi­ants would con­sider us­ing an opener in 2019.

“When the op­po­si­tion is think­ing about us­ing an opener, it makes your life harder,” Zaidi said. “Our goal as a team should be to make life as dif­fi­cult as pos­si­ble for the op­po­si­tion.”

An opener is a nor­mal re­liever who starts a game, if

only spar­ingly, and is asked to work lim­ited duty to help bridge the gap to late-in­ning re­liev­ers. Tech­ni­cally, the opener would pre­vent the nor­mal starter (who’d gen­er­ally fol­low the opener) from fac­ing the top of the lineup a third time.

That’s when the num­bers tend to lean fa­vor­ably to­ward the hit­ters, when the pitcher can be­come more pre­dictable and lose sharpness and ve­loc­ity. Sev­eral teams tried it last year, mostly in the Amer­i­can League, in­clud­ing the A’s and Rays, who started the trend in May with ex-Gi­ants re­liever Ser­gio Romo.

Ac­cord­ing to a sam­pling of com­ments from Gi­ants re­liev­ers who were in town for Satur­day’s FanFest, they’d be re­cep­tive to the opener strat­egy.

“Sure,” Will Smith said. “If the team needs it, hell, yeah, we’ll do it.”

Nat­u­rally, es­tab­lished starters have dif­fer­ent mind-sets. Madi­son Bum­gar­ner, for ex­am­ple.

“Quick story on that,” man­ager Bruce Bochy said. “In the win­ter meet­ings, Farhan men­tioned us­ing an opener. Madi­son, be­lieve me, he watches and reads ev­ery­thing and knows what’s go­ing on. He’s in Hick­ory, N.C., and I get this text:

“If you use an opener in my game, I tell ya, I’m walk­ing right out of the ball­park.’

“I text him back, ‘Madi­son, whoa, it de­pends on how you’re pitch­ing whether I’m go­ing to do that or not.’

“I can’t show you the next text.”

Bochy’s story brought down the house dur­ing a Q&A FanFest ses­sion. Those who un­der­stood his point (and hu­mor) re­al­ize a pitcher of Bum­gar­ner’s cal­iber would not be asked to pitch be­hind an opener.

For the most part, an opener is sum­moned if the ro­ta­tion is thin, no­body avail­able is trusted to throw deep into the game and matchups fa­vor a onein­ning man to start on that given day.

Jeff Sa­mardz­ija’s thoughts on open­ers?

“I think it’s a load of crap,” he said.

Sa­mardz­ija is old school. He prefers starters to pitch six, seven or more in­nings, as he did in 2016 and 2017 with the Gi­ants. He made at least 32 starts and threw at least 200 in­nings five straight sea­sons un­til 2018, when he had shoul­der woes, dealt with com­mand and ve­loc­ity is­sues and didn’t pitch be­yond mid-July.

He said he feels 100 per­cent en­ter­ing spring train­ing (pitch­ers and catch­ers re­port Tues­day) and an­tic­i­pates re­join­ing the ro­ta­tion.

“Lis­ten,” Sa­mardz­ija con­tin­ued, “if ev­ery­body goes to wear­ing two left shoes in the league, then wear­ing two left shoes is go­ing to be the cool thing to do, right? What do you value in this game? To me, it’s the con­sis­tency of run­ning a guy out there ev­ery fifth day and know­ing that Bum’s go­ing to pitch Tues­day and then Sun­day. There’s some­thing to be said for that, and there is value there.”

Zaidi said he wants to pro­tect young pitch­ers Dereck Ro­driguez and An­drew Suarez and could use un­con­ven­tional strate­gies to do so, so per­haps they could en­ter af­ter an opener. Sa­mardz­ija, com­ing off an in­jury, could be eased in as well.

Not that he’d want to be an opener. Not that the Gi­ants would make him pitch be­hind an opener and in­ter­fere with his warm-up rou­tine af­ter a long, gru­el­ing re­hab.

“Where did the pride go from the play­ers’ stand­point?” Sa­mardz­ija said. “Where were the guys in Tampa Bay say­ing, ‘No, no, no, I’m good enough to go seven in­nings and get all these outs. You don’t need to do this.’ Ev­ery­body’s just ac­cept­ing what they’re told.

“As play­ers, we need a lit­tle more an­ar­chy. We need a lit­tle bit more self-moxie, a lit­tle more pride about your ca­reer and about the way you’re be­ing treated. When I came up in this game, I was told by the older guys to value your value. Un­der­stand what you bring to the team and let them know that, too.”

Noth­ing seems to stop the an­a­lytic-driven changes oc­cur­ring in the game, and starters are be­ing used less than ever. Last year, they av­er­aged 5.36 in­nings per game, fewest in his­tory. Teams av­er­aged 3.4 re­liev­ers a game, most in his­tory.

The first time through the lineup, hit­ters posted an OPS of .710 against starters, and the fig­ure jumped to .790 the third time through. As a re­sult, teams have less­ened work­loads of starters and called on more re­liev­ers, in­clud­ing to start games.

“It’s all about ne­ces­sity for where your team is at that point in the sea­son,” Gi­ants re­liever Tony Wat­son said. “Ob­vi­ously, you want five horses who’ll post up 30, 35 starts a year. That’s kind of a lux­ury” now.

Per­haps there’s no one suited to be an opener bet­ter than Pat Ven­ditte, who throws right-handed and left-handed and de­cides bat­ter to bat­ter which arm he’ll use. Ven­ditte was Zaidi’s first free-agent sign­ing. Both were with the Dodgers last year.

“When I saw that last year, that was def­i­nitely some­thing that en­tered my mind,” Ven­ditte said. “When you see a bullpen guy start a game and you’re a bullpen guy, you think it could pos­si­bly be one thing you could do one day. If I’m asked to do it, I would love that op­por­tu­nity.”

The Gi­ants wouldn’t use it reg­u­larly, only on rare oc­ca­sions. Maybe Derek Hol­land or Drew Pomer­anz, who have ex­pe­ri­ence start­ing and re­liev­ing, could fol­low the opener and eat up the mid­dle in­nings. Re­gard­less, it’s a sig­nif­i­cant change, and sig­nif­i­cant changes aren’t al­ways im­me­di­ately em­braced.

Or­lando Ramirez / As­so­ci­ated Press 2017

Madi­son Bum­gar­ner (left) and Jeff Sa­mardz­ija main­tain that start­ing pitch­ers like them should take the ball ev­ery fifth day.

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