Chad Green began his big-league career as a starter before shifting to the bullpen. In a way, serving as the 'opener' for Saturday night's game is a return to his roots.
For Green, though, his first two starts since 2017 don't resemble those he used to make. Instead, Green is simply the opener -- he will start the game, but is not expected to pitch more than two innings before giving way to the rest of his bullpen mates. The Yankees' bullpen is well-rested, as long men Luis Cessa, David Hale, Nestor Cortes Jr. and Jake Barrett can all provide length for Friday's game.
But why have the Yankees come to this point?
Injuries have the Yankees' pitching staff on short supply of starters. Five rotation arms are on the Injured List: Luis Severino, James Paxton, CC Sabathia, Jordan Montgomery and Jonathan Loaisiga. Those five would make up a pretty competent rotation in their own right if they were all healthy.
That leaves the Yankees with just three healthy starters left: Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and Domingo German. While Cessa and minor-leaguer Chance Adams have started games for the Yankees before, they have been primarily used out of the bullpen this year and are not stretched out. The Yankees really have no other choice than to throw out a Triple-A arm.
In a certain sense, that's what they are doing on Friday against the Royals. After Green goes through the first one or two innings, Cortes, Hale or Cessa will pitch for multiple innings like a conventional starter.
So why bother sending out Green to start things off?
The point of the opener is to bring in a more trusted reliever to set down the top of the order, where the best hitters line up. Green can work through the top Royals hitters, which include Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, Alex Gordon and Jorge Soler.
Despite Green's struggles this year, it's easy to see why Boone would trust him to face the Royals' best hitters more than Cortes or Hale, who are little more than minor-league depth arms. Kansas City's lineup isn't very strong to begin with, but the one bit of trouble could come from that pesky top half.
So, here's the likely plan: Green will pitch to the first 4-6 batters before giving way to Cortes or Hale for the weaker bottom half of the order. Then, Boone can turn to Cessa, who has been quietly effective this year, for the next two innings.
After that, five innings will be in the books, around the time the bullpen would normally start getting warmed up anyway. The usual crew of Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman would close things out in the late innings.
While it sounds like a solid plan, things can and will go wrong. With a 10-man bullpen though, Boone will have more than enough options to put out any fires.
The Yankees have already done this twice before, both resulting in wins against the Rays (13-5 this year and 4-1 last season). The Yankees aren't going to try this strategy out against the Red Sox or Astros, but against a cellar-dwelling Royals team, what's the worst that could happen?
Like it or not, the "opener" is here to stay. For a Yankees team deprived of starters, it presents a viable option for a game that's not particularly high-leverage. Over time, baseball has become more data-driven than ever. If the computer says that the Yankees have a better win probability by having Green come in first, then the Yankees will do it.