By Doug Bruzzone
Special to S.F. Examiner
ORACLE PARK — The San Francisco Giants take the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday afternoon, and the Rays, long noted as one of those more innovative franchises in baseball, are using one of their new strategies: the opener. As opposed to the traditional baseball orthodoxy, where a starting pitcher goes for as long as possible and probably isn’t doing his job if he goes fewer than five innings, an opener is a reliever who pitches for an inning or two before giving way to a pitcher who can hopefully handle most of a starter’s workload.
The Rays have settled on Ryne Stanek as their opener. Stanek appeared in 59 games last year, 29 as the opener, and had an excellent season with a 2.98 ERA in 66 1/3 innings.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy mentioned before the game that while it was possible to strategically change the lineup in anticipation of facing an opener, it wasn’t something San Francisco needed to do on Saturday.
“Their opener is a right hander today, so it doesn’t change our order at all at the top of the order,” Bochy said. “After that, depending on who you think is coming in, it might change our order a little bit to get the matchups that you want. But there’s a good chance there’s gonna be a righty following this guy, so it really doesn’t change anything”
The opener makes it hard for opposing hitters to know which pitcher to study before the game, as they would for a starter.
“I couldn’t do any preparation last night because I didn’t know who [would pitch today],” third baseman Evan Longoria said. “I figured it was gonna be one of a few guys down there.”
The Giants haven’t talked about using an opener yet this year, but Bochy did note that despite the franchise’s reputation as a traditional team, they have quietly incorporated some more advanced analytics, pointing out the defensive alignments they’ve been using for years.
“I think if you look over the years, we’ve done our share of shifting,” Bochy said. “You can look at it. I like to think I’ve been open minded in my tenure here with baseball ops. Just probably hasn’t been talked about here.”
-In Friday’s home opener, the Rays used a four-man outfield against first baseman Brandon Belt. Bochy said he wasn’t surprised by that, since Belt hits a lot of fly balls, and that there are a couple hitters in the National League against whom the Giants are considering using a similar shift.
-Longoria, a longtime Ray, said that while it felt a little strange playing against the team he spent 10 years with, “It felt like losing another game.”