2 Giants starters don’t like opener
Bumgarner has a most emphatic no, Bochy says
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.
Madison Bumgarner (left) and Jeff Samardzija maintain that starting pitchers like them should take the ball every fifth day.