Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
St. Petersburg, Fla. -- The script when you use an opener, as the Yankees did on Wednesday and will likely do at least once in the division series, is supposed to flow like this: The opener blazes through a dominant one or two innings, then a starting pitcher -- the "bulk guy"
These innovations, pioneered by the brilliant Tampa Bay Rays last season and since imitated by other clubs, have helped teams maximize their pitchers' strengths and steal wins from what would have been back-of-the-rotation slogs. The opener is a fascinating hack of the game, and will only become more widespread.
But what happens when the strategy goes sideways, as it did for the Yanks and Jonathan Loaisiga on Wednesday?
To be clear, Loaisiga was a placeholder for Chad Green, who would have gotten the assignment had he not pitched the night before. It is Green who we should expect to see opening in
But the way this game unfolded was a reminder that the strategy can bring complications that make the rest of the game more difficult. While Loaisiga labored and allowed two runs, a perfectly ready Happ stood in the bullpen and watched.
What do you do when your opener doesn't have it? There isn't a set plan. As one analytics-savvy executive
That's exactly right. Boone later said that had Loaisiga continued to struggle, he would have gotten a reliever up in a hurry. There was no way he was going to bring Happ into the middle of an inning, and he might have watched the inning get away while another guy warmed up.
Green is a safer bet to avoid trouble. His fastball, elite in both velocity and the spin rate, is an effective weapon against both righties and lefties at the top of any lineup.
He has a 3.43 ERA in 14 appearances as an opener this year, but that number is skewed by the night that proved he's not immune to an opening stinker: August 15, when he allowed five runs in a third of an inning against Cleveland.
That night, Boone was forced to get Loaisiga -- then the bulk guy
Last year's win in the Wild Card game was another example. Oakland decided to use reliever Liam Hendriks as an opener -- a decision that was, according to sources, controversial in the A's clubhouse.
The players who viewed the move suspiciously saw their fears realized when Hendricks allowed two runs in the first. By the sixth, Fernando Rodney -- hardly the team's best reliever -- was in a position to allow two crucial runs without recording an out. Relief ace Blake Treinen had to rush in to clean it up, and he struggled, too.
In summary, the ineffective opener threw off the entire game, and the A's season ended.
On Wednesday, the Yankees' results weren't nearly as disastrous. Happ showed some early rust, perhaps a consequence of entering a game at an unfamiliar juncture, but did exactly what a bulk guy needs to do, allowing just one run in four innings. His job was to get the ball to a late-inning reliever in the sixth, which he did by passing it off to Tommy Kahnle.
The Yankees gained confidence in Happ's ability to perform in this role, as they did with CC Sabathia in short relief the night before. The opener is probably a better play in the postseason for them than using a fourth starter -- but it's not a move without risks of its own.