The Tampa Bay Rays sparked a baseball revolution with their “opener” experiment, in which the team uses a bullpen arm in the first inning before the rotation pitcher enters the game. The results were mixed in Sergio Romo‘s four stints as an opener. But if there’s another team out there who could use such a strategy, it’s your Colorado Rockies.
The Rockies’ rotation is having a solid season, with 26 quality starts heading into Friday’s series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the sixth-most in baseball. But the first inning is giving them fits. Their first-inning ERA is 7.39, and opponents are batting .302 against them. They’ve allowed 12 home runs and a blistering .902 OPS.
German Marquez is the worst offender, with a first-innning ERA of 11.45 ERA and a 1.181 OPS against him. In fact, the first inning accounts for 14 of his 27 earned runs! Chad Bettis is also struggling in the first, with a 8.18 ERA and .979 OPS allowed, while Jon Gray is having his own troubles out of the gate (6.00 ERA, .845 OPS).
There is clearly just one reasonable solution: Cop the Rays’ strategy and use a bullpen arm as an opener. The top-of-the-order bats are landing the first blow far too often; why not clear out those big bats and let the starters enter the game seeing a more friendly part of the opposing lineup?
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So now that we’re doing this, which bullpen arm is most qualified to take on this mighty task?
Adam Ottavino is the first pitcher that comes to mind. Before his stint on the disabled list, Ottavino was one of the National League’s most impressive and dominant arms. He’s racked up 45 strikeouts in 28.1 innings pitched and sports a 0.95 ERA. In 28 plate appearances against Ottavino, the first and second hitters in opposing lineups have just one hit against him.
While Ottavino is thriving as the “set-up” man, the rotation pitcher would ideally be in the game later than usual, negating Otto’s traditional eighth-inning role.
Another option is Scott Oberg, who had a successful outing after tweaking his form in Triple-A. His high-velocity fastball could make him an ideal opener. Imagine stepping up for the first at-bat of the game and facing a 98-mph heater!
Or perhaps the bullpen’s “newest secret weapon,” Harrison Musgrave? He is dominating with his secondary-pitch combination of the changeup and slider. (But despite a 2.53 ERA, his FIP is 4.81 and he’s allowing a worrying amount of hard contact against right-handed batters). Chris Rusin is certainly an option, being a former starter, but he’s too inconsistent at the moment to take on this high-pressure gig.
Disclaimer: I think this is a silly idea. But given the Rockies’ first-inning follies, the club is a natural fit for this unusual experiment. And if their problems persist, maybe this idea won’t seem so silly after all.